A picture of the liverpool skyline at dusk

Department of Public Health and Policy

A History of Public Health at Liverpool

Liverpool is one of the oldest academic centres for the teaching of public health in Britain. A School of Hygiene and university Department of Hygiene were formed in 1897. This academic interest reflected the close association between the new Liverpool University College and the City Corporation, which had created the first municipal public health department in Britain in 1847, with Dr William Henry Duncan as the country’s first Medical Officer of Health.

Liverpool pioneered many of the developments that have taken place in public health over the past two centuries. In the late nineteenth century the city was one of the first to provide a health visiting service, mother and infant welfare centres, having already accomplished a large programme of sanitary reform and built the country’s first municipal housing scheme in the 1870s. In the twentieth century Liverpool continued to introduce new public health strategies, being one of the first cities to run a whole population screening programme for tuberculosis in 1959 and establishing some of the first urban smokeless zones in the 1960s.

   Liverpool mass x-ray campaign, 1959

The city has also been one of the front-runners in responding to the new philosophy of re-integrating medical and environmental public health disciplines, creating a Joint Public Health Team in 1992. Liverpool was one of the first cities in Britain to explicitly acknowledge the association between inequalities in health and poverty, through the 1996 City Health Plan.

A Chair in Hygiene (later successively renamed as ‘Public Health’, ‘Community and Environmental Health’, and ‌‘Community Health’) was created in 1897 as a joint appointment with the City of Liverpool, and held until 1977 by the city’s Medical Officer of Health. In 1979 the chair became a full-time university academic appointment. In its first 100 years, there were only four holders of this chair – all of them internationally renowned experts in both academic and practical public health – Edward Hope, William Frazer, Andrew Semple and Peter Pharoah.‌

The Department of Public Health and Policy has remained at the cutting edge of public health education, introducing a new course, the Master of Public Health in 1989, which also became an online programme in 2006.

  19th Century insanitary housing conditions in Liverpool               Early 20th Century medical inspection of ship crews