In Conversation: Director of Public Health Sefton and Knowsley

We talk to the man whose job is to keep more than 420,000 people across Knowsley and Sefton healthy and happy.

There’s a saying ‘it takes a village to look after a village’, says Matt Ashton. We can provide the services and activities, but public health is about us all looking out for our neighbours and our own communities – and expecting them to look after us. “I may co-ordinate but I do it with, for and through everyone else.

While people in Knowsley and Sefton have got healthier, so has the rest of the country. “Some people need more help than others. But we’re only on this planet once, we shouldn’t have a rubbish time, let’s try to make it as nice as we can for ourselves and people around us.”

He’s careful not to come across as blasé. There’s no doubt that where we live, the lives we lead, our education, our job – it all affects our health. It can be a massive challenge but we can’t escape the fact that that feeling well, eating well, being out and about all makes you happier and more likely to fulfil your potential.

While people must make their own choices, his job is to help them make the connections between lifestyle and wellbeing, and give them the means to make a choice by getting messages and services that can help out there.

Matt likes to catch up with the family, go for a run, or have food and a drink with his wife and their friends. “I’m no different to anyone else. I know what’s best; I just don’t always want to do it. do it. But neither do I want a life where I’m struggling to enjoy my life because I haven’t looked after myself.

Of course, it’s not a dictatorship. But people talk negatively about the nanny state. Is the idea of a nanny state really such a bad thing? After all, nanny was the person who in days gone by cared for you.

“We have to look after people while they’re still well, so fewer end up having to go into hospital. It’s every one taking a small step, doing one thing like cutting down on what they eat or drink, or smoke – getting a balance, and helping others to do the same. “If you can do it for a month you’ve cracked it. That’s public  health in action!