UCL Population Health Sciences


Q&A with Professor Andrew Hayward

8 February 2022

We speak to Professor Andrew Hayward Director of the UCL Institute of Epidemiology and Health Care about UCL's new online Master of Public Health (MPH), why it's unique, and its future impact.

Professor Andrew Hayward

What is your role at UCL and what does it involve?

I view my role at UCL as that of a Public Health practitioner who, by working with teams of fantastic colleagues at one the world’s best Universities can help maximise our impact on the health of the public through research, teaching and real-world engagement. In my own research, I have a dual focus. My infectious disease epidemiology work focuses on respiratory infections including tuberculosis, influenza and COVID-19. My work with colleagues at the UCL Collaborative Centre for Inclusion Health, which I co-direct, focuses on redressing the extreme health inequities seen in socially excluded groups including people experiencing homelessness, addiction and imprisonment.    

As Director of the Institute of Epidemiology and Health Care, I have the privilege of supporting our amazing community of researchers, teachers and professional services staff who work tirelessly to understand and influence the drivers of health, whether those be social determinants, behaviours or health services. The fact that UCL is now rated fifth in the world for Public Health research is a testimony to the influence of their work. I view teaching as an integral part of our Institute’s mission to improve the Health of the Public and reduce inequalities as our students will take their understanding and skills out into the world and become the next generation of researchers and teachers.  

Since the start of the pandemic, I have been co-leading the Virus Watch Community Cohort study of 50,000 people across the country.  This has complemented my role on two of the subgroups of the Scientific Advisory Groups for Emergencies (SAGE) – the New and Emerging Respiratory Virus Threats Advisory Group and the COVID-Transmission subgroup.  This policy engagement has allowed me to feed in data on COVID-transmission and immunity informing COVID-19 restrictions and the vaccination programme.  

You have been at the heart of developing UCL’s new online Master of Public Health (MPH). Why launch this programme now?

I have been privileged to work with some of the most influential thought leaders in Public Health, which has influenced my thinking on why we need a distinctive MPH to train practitioners and researchers of the future. When I first stepped through the doors of UCL a quarter of a century ago to teach public health to medical students I was very aware of the transformative work of Professor Sir Michael Marmot whose team rigorously evidenced the enormous influence of social determinants of health. In the UK his report Fair Society Healthy Lives underpins our national response to health inequalities and over the last two decades Sir Michael has continued to work tirelessly to make tackling health inequalities central to public health policy and practice around the world. We recently estimated that in the UK a third of premature mortality can be attributed to area-based inequalities making this one of the great ongoing Public Health challenges of the coming century, and a major strand of the MPH.  

My long-term mentor, Professor Dame Anne Johnson, has also been massively influential to my thinking. Her work leading the Health of the Public 2040 report has laid out a coherent vision for 21st century Public Health. It is a vision that recognises the myriad influences of different environments on health – the natural and built environment, the demographic, cultural and social environment, the political, economic and commercial environment, the digital and technical environment; the educational and occupational environment, the health and social care environment, the behavioural environment all of which interact with biology across the life-course. To tackle the Public Health challenges of the 21st Century, practitioners of the future will need to develop core skills and a breadth of interdisciplinary understanding to work with colleagues from multiple sectors to influence health.  As a truly multi-faculty University, UCL is second to none in its ability to bring together expertise together to deliver and develop interdisciplinary research and teaching to improve health. This interdisciplinary view is the founding ethos of UCL Health of the Public led by Professor Dame Anne Johnson and Professor Graham Hart, former Dean of the Faculty of Population Health Sciences. Our new online MPH reflects this vision and aims to provide a transformative approach to training public health practitioners of the future. 

Which elements of the UCL Master of Public Health (MPH) programme are you most excited about and why?

I am particularly excited that this course is designed from inception to ensure that students gain core public health skills such as epidemiology, statistics, evaluation, needs assessment and much more whilst also developing a breadth of understanding of multidisciplinary approaches to improving health and reducing inequalities. To achieve this we will draw on existing excellent core teaching resources but importantly also harness the knowledge, skills and enthusiasm of academics from across UCL. I am also very excited about the inbuilt approach to ensure the course includes voices of the public and of real-world public health practitioners. Too often, academic public health is remote from the communities we serve and from those who are delivering public health strategies at local, national and international levels. 

Can you tell us about some of the key modules on the programme and why they are important?

Whilst all our modules are designed to have interdisciplinary input, our core module “Fundamentals of Interdisciplinary Public Health” will showcase a wide range of interdisciplinary influences on health with teachers who are experts in their respective fields from across the University, such as law, built environment, education, climate science, social science and population health sciences. This is where we will showcase examples of how perspectives from different disciples are fundamental to addressing the complex challenges of Public Health. I am also particularly excited that all students will take the Leadership and Management in Public Health module. We are truly fortunate to be able to build on investments in the UCL Global Business School for Health to provide students with an understanding of the leadership and management skills and styles that are so critical to achieving impact.   

What types of jobs do you envisage MPH graduates pursuing?

Public Health Practitioners work in a diverse array of settings depending on whether they are using their skills to improve public health at local, national or international levels. These include organisations such as local authorities, local public health departments, hospitals, population health management organisations, health maintenance organisations, national health services, government Health Departments, national public health agencies such as, in the UK, the Health Security Agency and the Office for Health Improvement and Disparities, guideline development bodies such as the National Institute of Health and Social Care Excellence, Centers for Disease Control, World Health Organisation, national and International Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs), Charities, healthcare and pharmaceutical industries and, of course, Universities. The possibilities are endless and through the course of a career, many practitioners will gain experience across a range of settings. These roles are united by a need to be able to apply core public health skills and work effectively with colleagues, members of the public and with professional groups from many disciplines to improve the health of the populations you serve. Our MPH will provide the foundation for these careers.  

What role have you played with the COVID-19 pandemic and how do you think it has changed the public health careers landscape?

I have been involved in the national response to the COVID-19 pandemic since January 2020 when the virus was first discussed at the New and Emerging Respiratory Virus Threats Advisory Group, on which I serve. I have repeatedly needed to use the public health skills I developed through my own Master's in epidemiology and broader public health training to work at breakneck speed to inform the response. I have been immensely impressed by the team of researchers I work with who have dropped everything to support the response. The urgency of the crisis has meant we have needed to invert the usual approach of getting research into practice whereby dissemination and impact usually follow publication – now we start with rapidly disseminating results as policy papers, then as pre-prints and finally as peer-reviewed publications in journals.   

Our teams’ work has influenced many aspects of the pandemic response including; informing restrictions on mixing in public spaces through evidence on transmission in different settings; closure of communal night shelters and the opening of single room hotel accommodation for over 35,000 people experiencing homelessness through the pandemic; analyses of sensitivity and specificity of different symptom combinations used to inform national guidance on who to test for COVID; analyses of the incidence of cough and fever in the general population allowing planning for the number of tests likely to be needed by the national testing programme; showing extremely high infection rates in hospital staff and the role of staff in seeding nursing-home outbreaks leading to regular testing; being amongst the first to show high mortality and vaccine hesitancy in ethnic minority groups supporting additional investment in community champions; analysis of waning antibody levels and the impact of antibody levels on breakthrough infection influencing the introduction of the COVID vaccine booster programme. 

An important part of my involvement has been through regular media appearances on national television and radio networks. This has allowed me to explain the risks of COVID and the rationale for the unprecedented restrictions that were necessary earlier in the pandemic. Sometimes this has been uncomfortable, for example during periods before widespread vaccination when I felt the government was acting too late to prevent mass hospitalisations and deaths. It was helpful to be a Public Health academic working at a University as this allowed me to speak frankly and freely. 

The pandemic has shone a bright light on stark inequalities in health. Unfortunately, the health, economic, educational and social consequences have fallen hardest on those who were already most disadvantaged. This further strengthens the need to address health inequalities through all public health work and education. The pandemic has affected all aspects of life, demanding an interdisciplinary response to understand the impact and guide policy.  It has been truly inspirational to work with colleagues from so many disciplines to inform the response. We hope the MPH will prepare students to work across professional boundaries to tackle ongoing public health challenges and future emergencies.    

Why offer the MPH as an online course?

Whilst we fully appreciate the value of traditional face-to-face teaching we have also learnt through the pandemic that we can achieve very high-quality teaching online. Unlike the teaching, we delivered during the pandemic this MPH is designed from inception to be online. This means we can optimise and standardise the approach, ensure quality and build in interactive components and opportunities for real-time discussion throughout. Public Health is strongest when it has people working in it from a range of professional backgrounds. We want people from around the world to be able to take this course without having to turn their professional and personal lives upside down by needing to spend a year in London. We recognise that for many the main cost of doing a Master’s degree is stopping working and relocating to London so the online format makes the MPH much more affordable so that more people can benefit. The online format lends itself well to students studying at their own pace at times that are convenient to them and from anywhere in the world. 

Finally, I am excited about the range of students a flexible online format will attract. We want them to bring their own real-world experience to share with us and their fellow students.  We want them, where possible to bring data and real-world problems from their own work to act as the basis of their dissertations.   

What impact do you hope the UCL Master of Public Health MPH will have in the future? 

We are delivering this course because we believe a new interdisciplinary approach is needed to tackle the most pressing health problems of the future and we want our students to be able to combine core skills with interdisciplinary breadth.  We expect our alumni to develop careers that make a difference to the health of populations around the world, whether they are working at local, national, or international levels. We hope many will stay in touch with us at UCL and with each other. 

Do you have any advice for prospective students who may be interested in applying to the Master of Public Health MPH at UCL? 

We know it is a big commitment to undertake a Master's course so we want you to be confident you are making the right choice for you. Please do come to one of our online open days and feel free to contact me or other members of the team to discuss the course.   

In addition to students who are moving directly from a relevant undergraduate degree to further their training, we are looking for students with a wide range of personal and professional backgrounds who want to be able to direct their careers towards making a difference in public health. 

Applications for the Master of Public Health MPH are open

A programme sitting at the leading edge of public health, our MPH degree will equip you with the skills to make a difference to public health in a multitude of contexts.

Start your application journey now