Every year, the Director of Public Health (DPH) is asked to write a report outlining the work of the year, often focused on a particular issue and making recommendations for the coming year.

This year I have decided to focus this report on personal reflections on the response to COVID-19 in Torbay.

2020 has been an extraordinary year and a very busy one for Public Health, with the impact of the biggest global health threat for a generation. The pandemic brought many challenges, not only from the virus directly but also from the impacts on health and care in general and, importantly, from the devastating impact on the economy, on poverty and on inequalities. The impacts are profound and wide-ranging, affecting all sectors of society and all ages.

Recovery over the coming years will take time. However, the outbreak also leaves behind a legacy of new ways of working, and the possibility of working differently and more effectively in the future. We also need to see this as an opportunity. In particular, we need to build on the amazing response of the community and voluntary sector, as well as partnership working with statutory partners and businesses and co-create with them a new future of social transformation.

This report, different from my previous reports, provides a personal account from a DPH of the work, day by day, week by week and month by month to fight the impact of the virus. It then outlines what I feel have been the major consequences.

Finally, I reflect on the main challenges for Torbay Council, our partners and for the people of Torbay, how these have changed and where our focus needs to be in 2021 as we dust ourselves down and prepare for life beyond COVID. I have been immensely proud of my own team, my colleagues across the Council and of the response from all partners this year.

In particular, I am proud of the response from the community and voluntary sector and of the selfless dedication of the people of Torbay. It is for all of these people that I in particular decided to write this report as I wanted to mark and acknowledge all the hard work and to celebrate what I feel has been an immense achievement by all concerned.

This year’s annual report is titled ‘The COVID story in Torbay’.

Recommendations are based around key priority areas:

  1. I would like to see a strong focus on work to address health inequalities. Within the council, this is through the Tackling the Tide on poverty work and within the NHS through the Health Inequalities Executive group. This work needs to also take into account the impacts of COVID as evidenced in the latest Marmot review “Buiding back Fairer” and the analysis on the impacts of COVID that the Public Health team have done. I challenge senior leaders to consider during 2021 how we can bring our efforts on inequalities together utilising this new evidence base to generate a system-wide approach within both the Local Care Partnership and within Torbay’s Primary Care Networks (PCNs) as well as within all Council departments.
  2. We need to urgently move the focus to prevention, and in particular, primary preventing looking at behaviours/lifestyle and the determinants of health. Not doing so will continue to burden the health and care sector with increasing demand from preventable illness and also risk lives with any future pandemic.
  3. To continue but at pace to embed the asset-based community development (ABCD) approach to build a healthier society co-creating with communities and building on the powerful CVS response to COVID. To do this, we need to make it easier for our community and voluntary sector to engage in our commissioning.
  4. Work to ensure more services recognise the importance of relationships and the impact of trauma and complexity.
  5. Work to enable people to Live Longer Better working with communities and the older person’s forum.
  6. Increase and embed a focus on young people and their aspirations and their emotional and economic health as outlined in the 2019 DPH annual report and as identified as a COVID related priority.
  7. That we continue to develop our mental health alliance work and to ensure a relentless focus on mental health putting people with lived experience and the many assets in the community are at the forefront of this.