Using behavioural science to improve and protect the health of the nation


PHE has been main the means in utilizing behavioural insights to change the behaviour of thousands and thousands of individuals to assist make us a more healthy nation. Whether it’s encouraging people who smoke to give up, rising uptake of the NHS Health Check, or decreasing the quantity of inappropriate prescriptions for antibiotics, our work is underpinned by proof from the behavioural and social sciences regarding why individuals behave as they do.

What are behavioural insights?

All populations face advanced health and wellbeing challenges that stem from a number of organic, psychological and social causes. The rising burden of long-term circumstances and health inequalities poses a problem for all public health techniques, which may solely be met by addressing the social, cultural and behavioural features of health and its determinants.

‘Behavioural insights’ mix findings from fields similar to cognitive psychology, behavioural economics, health psychology, sociology, and anthropology to perceive human behaviour and decision-making, and additionally to develop and consider behaviour change interventions.

How can behavioural and social sciences contribute to public health?

There is a wealth of proof that many of the points that undermine or improve our health outcomes have structural, social and behavioural determinants. This consists of:

  • the environments through which we reside, work and play
  • how training, employment, revenue and entry to health care providers are distributed
  • our experiences and perceptions of the constructed and on-line environments, social behaviour, stigma and discrimination

Therefore, the safety and enchancment of the inhabitants’s health can not rely solely on organic and medical fashions and sciences. The behavioural and social sciences are additionally required  in a multi-faceted method to addressing many of the main public health points, together with infectious and preventable illnesses, psychological ailing health, smoking, poor food regimen and bodily inactivity.

The use of behavioural and social sciences in public health will be traced again a great distance. For occasion, in 1854, Dr John Snow used geography to map cholera so as to present that the supply was a water pump in London’s Soho. However, lately, the contributions of behavioural and social sciences to defending and bettering the health of the public have gained extra prominence, and PHE’s Behavioural Insights (PHEBI) workforce have performed a number one function on this.

For instance, in a series of trials that aimed to enhance attendance at the NHS Health Check, PHEBI examined an enhanced invitation letter utilizing behavioural insights and despatched primer and reminder texts. The enhanced invites resulted in enhancements of up to 12% in uptake in contrast to the customary nationwide invitation template letter, at a low price. PHEBI additionally produced case research about the use of weighted remuneration to NHS Health Check suppliers, to encourage take-up by goal teams.

Other letters to which PHEBI has utilized behavioural insights embrace the National Childhood Measurement Programme outcomes letter and flu vaccination letters. An estimated 6 million individuals per 12 months obtain a letter enhanced by PHEBI.

In one other trial, which aimed to ‘make the healthier choice the easy choice’, two interventions had been designed utilizing behavioural insights to change the visibility and availability of merchandise in hospital merchandising machines. From the gross sales information, PHEBI discovered a 23% lower in confectionary gross sales and a 63% enhance in water gross sales, while enterprise remained commercially viable. You can learn extra about this trial in our blog. Behavioural science has additionally been built-in into NHS steering on workers health and wellbeing, which you’ll see here.

PHE’s behavioural scientists are additionally working to assist protect the nation from new and rising threats to health, similar to infectious illness outbreaks and chemical incidents. A sister workforce to PHEBI, the Emergency Response Department’s Behavioural Science Team (ERD BST), helps PHE perceive how individuals are affected by emergencies and disasters, and how and why their behaviour adjustments in response to these occasions. These insights can be utilized to assist us to put together for and reply to public health incidents.

For instance, throughout the current nerve agent incident in Salisbury and Amesbury, the ERD BST supported the work of the cross-Government Scientific Advisory Group in Emergencies (SAGE), as responders sought to perceive how the area people can be affected by the incident. The workforce coordinated the deployment of PHE volunteers to work alongside the Police and Local Authority in the neighborhood, answering the public’s questions and offering quick access to public health recommendation. The ERD BST has initiated a quantity of tasks which is able to assist PHE and its companions to perceive how finest to help the area people in the future.

The behaviour of healthcare professionals has additionally been influenced via the use of behavioural insights. Prescribing pointless antibiotics contributes to antimicrobial resistance, and a minimum of 20% of all antibiotics prescribed in main care in England are inappropriate. In 2014, the PHEBI workforce led on a trial to check the impact of sending suggestions from the Chief Medical Officer to GPs in nearly 1,600 practices with the high 20% prescribing charges. This led to a 3.3% lower of antibiotic prescribing (73,000 fewer prescriptions), and saved over £92,000 in direct prescribing prices for the public sector alone over the six month trial. This suggestions has been delivered yearly since and has led to additional enhancements.

Behavioural insights may also be influential when utilized to advertising and marketing campaigns. PHE’s Stoptober campaign included insights about social networks, setting clear and particular targets, and moment-to-moment impulse administration. Behavioural science additionally underpins smoking cessation programmes as you’ll be able to see in the steering for commissioning native tobacco management interventions here.

A brand new behavioural and social sciences technique

The PHEBI workforce will publish a brand new technique – Improving People’s Health: Applying behavioural and social sciences to improve inhabitants health and wellbeing in England – later this month. This technique is being developed collaboratively by a variety of stakeholders together with public health practitioners and educational and skilled our bodies. As a excessive stage information, it should intention to make sure that the public health system is in a position to apply the insights of the behavioural and social sciences to bettering and defending the health and wellbeing of our inhabitants.

What’s subsequent?

Behavioural and social sciences shall be a distinguished topic all through the PHE annual convention on 11 and 12 September, with a number of classes together with:

  • The convention closing keynote tackle by Professor Dame Theresa Marteau on the topic of ‘Changing minds about changing behaviour’, which is able to look into how to facilitate the implementation of interventions that change behaviour benefiting the health of all. Details of this session will be considered here.
  • The ‘Behavioural and social science in public health: translation of transdisciplinary evidence into outcomes’ session, chaired by PHE’s Director of Health Improvement Professor John Newton. More about this session will be discovered here.
  • The ‘Artificial intelligence meets behavioural science’ session, offered by Professor Susan Michie from the Centre for Behaviour Change at University College London, will focus on the Human Behaviour Change Project. The presentation summary will be considered here.
  • The pre-conference workshop, ‘Responding to major incidents and emergencies: mental health, wellbeing and resilience’ will embrace contributions from behavioural scientists from PHE’s Emergency Response Department. More details about the workshop will be discovered here.

There are nonetheless a couple of locations accessible for the second day of PHE’s Annual Conference, going down on 11-12 September at Warwick University.

For anybody who’s unable to attend in person, you’ll be able to sustain with all the information and on-line discussions by way of Twitter, by following @PHE_uk. To take part, use #PHEConf18.



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