Key points

  • Public health and wellbeing is a priority for governments across the United Kingdom
  • Speech and language therapy makes a vital contribution across all aspects of health improvement, protection and care, and in England, to the delivery of the NHS Five Year Forward View (PDF)
  • Speech and language therapists (SLTs) are experts in communication
  • SLTs have an important role in supporting and training other professionals and carers in prevention of speech and swallowing difficulties, and identifying language problems
  • If communication difficulties are identified early in life they can prevent a lifetime of problems and social consequences that develop as a result


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Here you will find information about public health and speech and language therapy.

Defining public health

The definition of public health by the Faculty of Public Health is widely recognised and is used by RCSLT as a basis for considering how our policies contribute to public health.

“The science and art of promoting and protecting health and well-being, preventing ill-health and prolonging life through the organised efforts of society.”

Role of speech and language therapy for public health

Speech and language therapy makes a vital contribution across all aspects of health improvement, protection and care, and in England, to the delivery of the NHS Five Year Forward View (PDF). SLTs undertake the following activities:

  • Safe feeding for premature babies
  • Identifying language delay in school and pre-school settings to prevent future under-achievement
  • Support for adults with swallowing and eating difficulties and training carers and staff
  • Rehabilitation and return to work following stroke, cancer or other conditions
  • Communicating information to children and adults with learning disabilities, with dementia or at end of life
  • Prevention activity that reduces hospital admissions or allows earlier discharge

What the RCSLT is doing:

  • Developing resources for members
  • Including public health in revised curriculum guidelines
  • Engaging in research and development of evidence base

What SLTs can do:

  • Familiarise yourself with the resources available on these pages
  • Integrate public health messages into your day to day practice. Make every contact count

England national policy

Public Health England (PHE) was established on 1 April 2013 to bring together public health specialists from more than 70 organisations into a single public health service. PHE supports the development of the public health system as a whole, working with local authorities, the NHS, universities and the voluntary and community sector.

The PHE’s four core functions are:

  • Protect the public’s health from infectious diseases and other public health hazards
  • improve the public’s health and wellbeing
  • Improve population health through sustainable health and care services
  • Build the capacity and capability of the public health system

Under the Health and Social Care Act 2012, specific public health functions transferred from the NHS to local government on the 1 April 2013. The public health commissioning responsibilities for children aged 0-5 transferred from NHS England to local authorities on 1 October 2015.

In 2015, Public Health England and the Allied Health Professionals Federation published a joint AHP Public Health Strategy (PDF), which sets out a vision and goals for the role of AHP professions in public health.

Scotland national policy

The Public Health etc (Scotland) Act 2008 places responsibilities and duties upon Scottish ministers, health boards and local authorities to protect public health in Scotland. In addition to local health boards, two national health boards also have a role. NHS Health Scotland is responsible for improving population health, and NHS National Services Scotland monitors health risks and coordinates protection through Health Protection Scotland; the Scottish Public Health Observatory analyses public health data.

The Scottish Government reviewed its approach to public health early in 2016 – 2015 Review of Public Health in Scotland and is now committed to developing a new public health strategy.

The review defined public health as:

  • “Public health is the science and art of promoting and protecting health and wellbeing, preventing ill-health and prolonging life, through the organised efforts of society. Some key features help to distinguish a public health approach from other approaches to improving health and wellbeing, such as those delivered through personalised health and care. Based on the definitions used by the Faculty of Public Health, we can describe public health as:
    • Being population based – concerned with the factors that make populations, e.g. communities, cities, regions, countries) healthier or unhealthier;
    • Emphasising collective responsibility for health, its protection and disease prevention, through the organised efforts of society;
    • Recognising the role of the state, and of the underlying socio-economic and wider determinants of health and disease, including the distribution of power, resources and opportunities within and across populations;
    • Involving partnership with those who contribute to the health of current and future populations.”

Public health in Scotland has traditionally been concerned with measures such as:

  • Immunisation
  • Smoking cessation
  • Health screening
  • Environmental protection
  • Collection of health-based data

The review identified the main public health challenges now facing Scotland as:

  • Obesity
  • Inactivity
  • Mental health
  • The persistence of health inequalities

It concludes that a preventative approach is required across society to address these challenges.

Wales national policy

The Public Health Act (Wales) became law in July 2017.

The Public Health Wales Strategic Plan for 2015-18 has a focus on early years as part of the Healthy Child Programme. RCSLT Wales members are seeking to influence implementation in Wales.

Rebecca Evans AM, then Minister for Social Services and Public Health launched the Welsh Government Public Health Strategic Framework for Allied Health professions at the RCSLT Wales Hub Day in March 2017.

Northern Ireland national policy

Making Life Better 2012-23 is the ten-year public health strategic framework in Northern Ireland for improving health and wellbeing and reducing health inequalities. It sets out high-level public health outcomes across six key themes and has with a strong focus on addressed social and economic inequalities as a key driver for improving public health.

The themes, such as ‘giving every child the best start’, are supported by several long-term outcomes, such as ‘good quality parenting and support’.

Read the full framework (PDF).

Northern Ireland Draft Programme for Government 2016 – 2021

NI Government is currently developing an outcomes-based programme for government, which sets out the high-level outcomes for our communities. It includes a broad commitment to implementing excellent public health strategies and interventions, which aid people to live healthier lives.

Public health is fundamental to many of the high-level outcomes set out in this draft programme, for example, ‘we enjoy long, healthy, active lives’ and ‘we give our children and young people the best start in life’. Key indicators include:

  • Reducing health inequalities;
  • Improving mental health;
  • Improving child development;
  • Reducing preventable deaths – defined as a death that ‘could have been avoided by public health interventions in the broadest sense’.


This infographic provides an overview of how speech and language therapists are involved in public health.

For further information read our public health (PDF) fact sheet.


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