Boys in Mind Meets...
Men who Care - An interview with Paul Sheehan:
By: Kit Cooper-Harrison
I’m Paul Sheehan and I’m a Development and Commissioning Manager in the Public Health and Preventative Services team in Bath and North East Somerset Council [BANES]. We have two main aims – to ensure that all our residents experience positive health outcomes, and that we reduce the health inequalities for different communities across BANES face. My main role is around implementing that into sexual and reproductive health; as an example, some groups that can experience poorer sexual health are younger people and LGBT communities, so that’s one area I focus on.
My role is largely planning and policy. We take a whole load of research evidence so we understand what works in terms of interventions with individuals and groups, see how that might apply with BANES communities and try to develop services and health improvement interventions from there. It’s my role to organise and coordinate all of that including sexual health clinics, young people’s services, GP practices, pharmacies and so on, and work with them to ensure services are good and work in a way service users need. There are lots of different strands and hopefully at the end we have a population that is more informed about their sexual wellbeing and experiences positive sexual health.
When I was doing my degree, I wanted to do welfare or social work. As part of social work teaching, you are sent on a series of placements doing actual work with real people who needed support. The only placement I could find was in the HIV team. I knew nothing about HIV, no idea at all! But I loved it and although I’m not a HIV social worker anymore I’ve worked in sexual health ever since. Back then HIV treatments were available, but they were still quite new, and we still had clients dying. In my first year, I went to 6 or 7 client funerals. That was tough.
About 2 or 3 years, after mostly working with Gay and Bisexual men with HIV we started picking up African women who were asylum seekers in the UK. They were HIV positive with HIV positive children after escaping war and conflict. It was awful seeing the discrimination they faced: the stigma of being HIV positive, and the racism and xenophobia they received from some residents. A lot of the work we were doing at the time was activism to challenge such views, and it’s sad but we still need to do that today.
What I enjoy most is seeing the differences we can make to population health. I moved into public health around 12 years ago. When I was a social worker, you work with individuals and hopefully make a positive difference relatively quickly. In the Public Health team, we implement longer term plans so we see the impact sometimes years afterwards. We’ve made changes and are now seeing the impact of having low teenage pregnancy rates and low rates of sexually transmitted infections. More young people are coming to our services which is great. The stigma around sexual health has really reduced and people are really taking control and “owning” their sexual health and wellbeing in a positive way.