During my time as Chair of Northern Ireland’s Public Health Agency (PHA), the role of partnership working was front and centre of its efforts to protect and improve the health and wellbeing of the population.

Public health outcomes can’t be achieved by imposing views on people; it must be done in collaboration. During the COVID-19 pandemic, when everyone was concerned and uncertain about all aspects of life, partnership working played a very important role in helping us to navigate our way through the public health challenges and to try to keep people safe and healthy. 

Power sharing

Partnership working in health and social care brings together different stakeholders so that they can benefit from pooled expertise, resources and power sharing. Its aim is to enhance the efficiency and quality of service provision.

In Northern Ireland, the PHA and its partners in the health trusts and Department of Health regularly collaborate with other government agencies, community and voluntary organisations and members of the public to develop effective ways to deliver healthcare.

Approaches such as co-production, which involves people who use health and social care services, carers and communities, working in equal partnership and being involved at the earliest stages of service design, development and evaluation, are delivering much better outcomes.

In the PHA, this approach is central to the agency’s work across its broad range of responsibilities.

Stop smoking

For example, the PHA’s health improvement officers work in partnership with members of the public who have quit smoking through PHA-funded specialist stop smoking services.

PHA officers worked directly with people who have used the services to support PHA messaging around World No Tobacco Day Participants are encouraged to share their quit smoking story in public communications and talk about how it has improved their health and wellbeing.

They have also played a key role in promoting this public health message within their local communities. By involving service users who had gone through the programme and are able to talk about it with authenticity both in the media and in their own communities, it has increased the effectiveness of the PHA’s work to engage with smokers and support them on their journey to quitting. This is helping to achieve better outcomes for both individual smokers and their families in terms of reducing the risk of smoking-related illnesses, but also for society given the impact on our health service of treating illnesses such as cancer and heart disease which have been caused by smoking.


Partnership working also has an important role in the PHA’s work to protect people’s health. For example, in its work to raise awareness about hepatitis C and develop public health information and increase health literacy among the highest risk groups at local and regional level.

The agency engaged with service users in a range of ways such as focus groups and videocall meetings to get feedback on how to improve public health messaging on this issue. This was important as hepatitis C is quite a sensitive subject given that routes of transmission include needle sharing and sexual contact, so it was important to take steps to ensure effective engagement to get critical and practical feedback on messaging to try to reach people most at risk in a way that encouraged them to engage with services. This has helped reduce the risk of serious illness among this hard-to-reach group.


Effective partnership working needs to be embedded in all aspects of healthcare to ensure the voices of those who matter are heard, and we must continually evolve to deliver the best support we can to members of the public to help them stay well for longer.

Andrew Dougal, outgoing Chair of the Public Health Agency in Northern Ireland

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