Boys in Mind Meets...
An Interview with Bruce Lawrence
By: Kit Cooper-Harrison
My name is Bruce Laurence, I am B&NES Council’s Director of Public Health. My job is to improve the health and wellbeing of the population by a wide range of different processes. I’m responsible for the planning and funding of services like sexual health services, health promotion, drug and alcohol treatment services and a range of others. I’m also the health advisor to the council. I work with the local health service helping them to plan services. In all that I do, I’m trying to improve people’s health and protect them from ill health and especially work on health inequalities to improve the lot of those that are least healthy and most disadvantaged.
I’m a doctor. I qualified in 1986. I did a little bit of work in paediatrics and then I spent about ten years working in medical relief with Médecins Sans Frontières, Oxfam, and other agencies. I could see from the work I did in conflicts, natural disasters and refugee camps that you could treat ill health and that is important, but what actually makes people healthy is a much wider range of influences. Basic things like water, food, shelter; more sophisticated things like culture and education. I think by the time I had been through that it felt more natural for me, when I came back to England, to train in public health.
I am the chair of the Domestic Abuse Partnership. The funding for the domestic abuse services has been very difficult for many years, based on short term grants and applying to Comic Relief and other charities. I and others got this administration to commit to some regular, reliable, long-term funding so the services that we provide have become much more secure. My team does a fantastic range of work in commissioning services, influencing policy, improving vaccination and screening uptake, working with the council on air quality, working with leisure services, mental health services and everyone, bringing benefits to the public. In B&NES, partly as a result of our activities, we have some excellent average health outcomes, but we are always mindful that some of our residents do much less well than the average and need extra help.
I’m always very keen that we protect services for the youngest. The services that health visitors and school nurses provide, improving the lives of young families, babies and children. You can work with every age but if you want to break the cycle of disadvantage, break the cycle of ill health, you can’t start too early. The earlier you start, the bigger your impact, even though you might not see that impact for a while. If we want the future to look better than the present we need to work with people while they are young. We need to support families, support mothers, get good habits built in for both physical health and mental resilience.
My biggest support is my wife. I get a lot of support from my team; we work in a way that we can all look out for each other. Despite my budget from the government being cut, I’ve always felt that B&NES council is very positive about our work. I find enjoyment in the ordinary round of cooking, shopping, being with people I like, being on my motorbike, running and going to the gym. I meditate every day to help me understand myself and the world better. I read a lot and I watch crap telly some of the time too, so I’m not very unusual in those things. With a good level of activity and a good diet, if you can do ordinary things mindfully and enjoyably then life can be quite relaxing… at least most of the time.