Helen Atkinson is the director of public health at Portsmouth City Council. Her job is to improve and protect the health of residents in our city so responding to the pandemic is core to what she and her team do.
What is the biggest challenge you’ve faced during the pandemic and how have you overcome it?
Every day has felt like a challenge for us in public health, as it has for others across the council, government policy changes have often been announced at short notice. We have had to respond quickly, safely advising colleagues and residents of the changes and implementing national programmes like community testing and contact tracing at speed.
This has been an unprecedented time for all of us and I have found national lockdowns difficult as we all have, particularly this last one during the cold short days of Winter. I cope like many others by exercising daily to try to keep my physical and emotional health going, this maybe a walk or cycle anything that gets me outside, away from the desk, and getting some fresh air. I’m feeling optimistic with the Spring sunshine, the success of the vaccination programme, the improving infection rate and the beginning of the first of four stages of the roadmap to coming out of lockdown.
Who is your inspiration or role model?
I have several but right now a couple of incredible women come to mind, the first is the Deputy Chief Medical Officer, Dr Jenny Harries, who has brought an understanding of the mental health and emotional wellbeing impacts of the pandemic to the Prime Minister’s press conferences. She often talked about the impact on families, friends and relationships, even once mentioning finding love in lockdown safely, when others were only focused on the data – important as it was. She was often the only women of science on the top table alongside the politicians and other male scientists. The other is Nadiya Hussain, TV presenter, chef and author who I always find inspiring as she is so down to earth and talks openly about her mental health, family and struggles with lockdown. She always has an infectious smile and enthusiasm that makes you feel that you can cope with anything.
What does International Women’s Day mean to you?
I think International Women’s Day is important to mark to remind ourselves of the amazing women that have come before us giving so much to ensure that women today have freedom to vote, freedom to be educated and freedom to choose. More women have these basic rights in 2021 but not all women across the world do so. Until they do, we must mark this important day.