Shirley Cramer, CBE


Roy and Shirley Cramer Jan 18

Yes, of course it’s water…Roy and Shirley settle in

I needed to look Shirley up after hearing her speak and before writing about her. Her NHS Health Chat at The Kings Fund in London, was so wide ranging that at the end I was confused about what she actually does…


Shirley Cramer, Public’s Health guru. Well, that’s how she came over! Luckily, her main job is Chief Exec of The Royal Society for Public Health, the oldest Public Health organisation in the world (161 years old).  And she gets involved in a lot of other things too – see later.
As ever, my views prevail here as the writer, but you can watch the podcasts (4 segments, easy to digest), to see if you agree with my take or not…click on the links below:

Section 1           Section 2           Section 3            Section 4

or the whole thing:  CLICK HERE

It is often the chatees (interviewee is the right word, but doesn’t fit Roy’s avuncular evisceration technique) – the chatees back story that informs why they have ended up in that chair right now. Shirley’s was more varied than normal.
17 year old girls from the unfashionable coast of West Cumbria don’t do their last year of school in Colombia in USA? Billeted with a family and schooled in a very different environment and style of schooling – she did a 7 page essay when everyone else did a paragraph or two, about a book – is a bit of a full on 24/7 learning experience. She just remembers it as a big adventure, but feeling homesick for first 3 months…

Went to uni after A levels. Applied Social Studies – 4 year course and come out as fully qualified Social Worker. 22 year old, in the Emergency team, even sectioning people in ambulances…

Married, husbands job goes to USA, so couldn’t work herself, as no permit. Masters in 13 months at private univ. Left in 86, and went voluntary, learnt about fund raising. East Side, NYC. Tough, I imagine…

Back in UK – involved in Muscular Dystrophy – already managing…

Back to New York City. (Tired yet?). Voluntary sector again. Learning Disability. Set up a Washington office. And was told to be bi-partisan, as she was issues based. Managed to befriend both sides, which stood them in good stead. Clinton 1 administration at the time. Worked. Televised Summit – “No child shall be left behind”.

A book fell out of this – still available – “Learning Disabilities – Lifelong Issues”. Click to see..

So why all this history? Everything that Roy Lilley and Shirley talked about afterwards was completely built on the foundations of that history. I’m not sure I have listened to anyone who has convinced me completely that they have learnt from every scrap of their experience. That’s what felt powerful tonight…

The Royal Society for Public Health is the oldest of its type in the world -as I said before. Abroad, it is talked of reverentially. Roy batted that back with the he rejoinder that Public Health had failed.

We did have a lot of talk about the reports they publish. Interesting, they are both fact based at the start, but also add in public opinion of those facts to find out if change is plausible and possible?

The discussion ranged wide – as wide as The Public’s Health remit is. Smoking? Tony Blair given plaudits for it. Sugar tax? £430 m – already taken, and has been allocated to schools specifically for fitness and outdoor kit. It’s probably only £20 000 per school, but it’s money they wouldn’t have and they can’t spend it on anything but sports stuff. Will it prevent childhood obesity? Maybe a step in the right direction?

There are pockets of excellence to copy. Portugal making possession of drugs for personal use legal. Crime and death rates have dropped. Scandinavia has the infrastructure (and smaller populations, I contend) to manage poverty well. There is also a positive attitude to ‘herd immunity’ everyone gets their kids immunised, to protect next door. We do it for our own.

There have been som excellent nudges in the right direction (report on high streets and poor areas having the worst range of shops).
I liked Shirley’s “evidence alone is never enough”. Her attitude also adds in public opinion. It gives the facts nudge worthiness…

I think though I tend to side with Roy.  Once we have the pointers from pressure groups such as RSPH, then Brits need legislation (Crash helmets; Smoking; Speed limits).  If you visit Scandinavia, you will note that (e.g.) the Danes don’t venture forth to cross a road until the little green man says so.  Brits ignore that, and get tutted at.  We are essentially a little bit rebellious, and don’t like to be told what to do.  But if it’s law, we do tend to do it right.  But we need to be pointed in the right direction first, and bodies like RSPH can do that very effectively.

Despite being in the widest job brief I can imagine, she also gets involved in other charities and groups. It seems she may not know the detail or the specifics, but that doesn’t matter – she has great people around her. And she is very good at leading and motivating a team. A vision person, I think.

Her one wish? Politicians to become more engaged and brave.

If that happens, maybe we could slowly move from a sickness based service to a Public’s Health service, with the NHS there for the fewer sick?

It’s a thought…