Much more than a snapshot, this book provides a fascinating insight into public health - past, present and future. With a foreword written by Britain's first public health minister, Tessa Jowell, it offers a unique and wide-ranging review of the policy and practice of public health.
It draws together viewpoints from a variety of practitioners to provide diverse perspectives on the range of key issues facing public health today. Contributors include senior policy makers, politicians, local practitioners, academics and researchers.
But, the editors begin by asking, what is public health? In their introduction they say it may mean nothing or everything - depending on one's perspective. It could include environmental factors such as water and housing, health behaviour or healthcare delivery. The diversity is what prompted the editors to put together these essays dealing with contemporary public health issues.
The book is divided into three parts: identifying the problems, offering solutions and looking to the future. As the concept of public health overlaps with so many themes there is some duplication, but efficient editing has kept this to a minimum.
In the first section, Siobhan McCartney gives a clear insight into domestic violence as well as highlighting why this is a key aspect of public health. The impact of genetics on public health is explored by Ron Zimmern.
On a more topical note, David Colin-Thome, writing about primary care perspectives, highlights useful tools to achieve the Labour government's vision for public health - to improve health and reduce inequalities. But he warns of the risk of carrying out needs assessment for the sake of bureaucracy.
In recent years there has been an increasing emphasis on the multidisciplinary nature of public health, so it is not surprising that many contributors revisit this.
The chapter by Ros Levenson and her colleagues explores different ways of multidisciplinary working in public health, particularly in inter-agency alliances. Another theme that receives attention is partnerships - essential in achieving greater improvements in health.
Tony Elson looks at joint working between health agencies and local authorities during the past few decades and highlights some of the key problems. Enthusiasts should read this chapter to alert themselves to possible pitfalls!
Overall, the editors have done a very good job. The book should generate a lot of discussion.
Dr Sam Ramaiah Director of public health medicine Dr Shalini Pooransingh Specialist registrar in public health medicine, Walsall health authority.