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Rupert Bailie

AWARD WINNER 2022-23: Rupert is granted an Award for his remarkable work, as Senior Public Health Lead in HMPPS, in helping to drive and shape the organisation’s response to Covid-19. His tireless efforts, skill, and professionalism throughout the pandemic “directly contributed to saving hundreds of lives”.
[His Award is supported by Interventions Alliance.]

As Deputy Director Ed Cornmell writes in the arresting opening of his nomination for Rupert:

‘It’s not often that you can quantify the difference that someone makes to the lives of those in prisons and probation by saying that they have saved hundreds of lives but in Rupert’s case he certainly has.’

Rupert Bailie brought a depth of public health expertise to the pandemic that stretched all the way back to include his work on the HIV/AIDS pandemic in 1988. His combination of deeply informed experience and profound commitment in his role as a public health lead for HMPPS proved vital. ‘A leader in his area,’ says Ed, ‘for obvious reasons Rupert has been at the centre of what has happened to the lives of people in prison and probation for the last two years.’

At the start of the pandemic, Public Health officials identified a ‘reasonable worst-case scenario’ of some 2,700 staff and prisoners losing their lives due to coronavirus and the COVID-19 pandemic. ‘As we have exited our formal national response and command mode in May 2022’, says Ed, ‘the reality is that, whilst all tragedies, there have been less than 10% of these deaths. Rupert has been central in that achievement.’

He played a central role supporting the Gold Command team with daily advice and oversight, and helping to steer the tactical and strategic challenge of managing through such an unprecedented period. Always on hand to help and ‘focused on the mission of keeping people safe and saving lives’, he was ‘critical’, too, in using his skills to sustain vital partnership relationships to collaborate and work with Public Health officials such as UKHSA and the Royal College of General Practitioners to what Ed calls ‘the wicked problem we have faced.’ He also praises Rupert for his ‘masterful weekly briefing’ in steering ‘the heatmap process that has governed the pace of recovery across all prisons.’

On a more personal note, he adds: ‘I couldn’t have managed through the past two years without his support. His humble response reveals the mark of the person he is, his core values and the difference he has made and continues to make to the lives of those we have in our care.’ He then cites Rupert’s own eloquent remark that:

Protecting and supporting the health of those whom society values less is perhaps the common theme of my labours since I started work on the HIV/AIDS pandemic in 1988. That’s probably what I’m for, and I’ve never felt alone.’

Rupert ‘has dedicated his working life to others’, and in the past two years ‘been at the centre of the biggest public health crisis in a generation, this biggest challenge prisons have ever faced and,’ and through his contribution, says Ed, ‘I am clear that he has directly contributed to saving hundreds of lives.’

Like so many Butler Trust winners, ‘Rupert would say that he was ‘just doing his job’, he adds, ‘[but] he has sacrificed a great deal to dedicate his time and energy ensuring the very best way through the pandemic he could.’ One of the first in HMPPS to see the risk, he combined ‘a great deal of professionalism and positivity’ – and while exposing ‘the biggest risks to us, he held our hand tightly as we managed through them.’

Rupert is also a ‘champion for research in prison settings to improve the evidence to inform policy and practice’, says Dr. Éamonn O’Moore, Deputy Director for Vulnerable People & Inclusion Health at the UK Health Security Agency, and was ‘instrumental’ in developing evidence-based guidance, adding that Rupert always worked ‘professionally, positively and with great resilience, even at times of immense pressure’.

Meanwhile Dr Jake Hard, Lead for Secure Environments at the Royal College of General Practitioners, praised Rupert for his ‘active, trusted engagement with senior clinicians working in the field’ which was ‘pivotal’, he says, ‘throughout these difficult times.’

Sarah Skett, HMPPS Head of Health and Care Partnerships, agrees, and reiterates that Rupert ‘was one of the first Civil Servants to recognise the risk posed by the ‘new’ Coronavirus and was instrumental in convincing senior leads that we needed to mobilise a pandemic response structure.’ (Some of the impressive speed and flexibility with which the entire sector responded can be seen in the Butler Trust publication ‘Hidden Heroes of the Pandemic’). Sarah adds of Rupert that ‘his life’s work has been delivering health related advice and interventions.’

Rupert adds more detail to his life’s work. ‘I’ve been around for a while’, he says, noting that in the late 1980s he joined the response to the HIV/AIDS pandemic, ‘establishing new services for drug users and sex workers and collaborating widely across black and gay groups. My 10 years on the frontline in that work was foundational in my understanding of public health, and I then spent 5 years teaching professionals and communities what I had learned.’ Valuable experience which meant ‘I understood the risk of a respiratory disease pandemic, and how severe that could be for prisons in particular, and engaged HMPPS in Exercise Cygnus in 2016, and in further preparatory work, which was sadly paused from 2018 as other matters needed a focus.’ Rupert adds that:

‘The first two months of 2020 were for me one of the most intense periods of my working life. As the threat from Wuhan Novel Coronavirus was clarified, I was engaged in responding through BAU processes which were quickly overwhelmed. Against the scepticism of some, I was confident in providing the first ministerial and senior leader briefs on the pandemic in January 2020, working closely with my MoJ colleagues… The daily and weekly response rhythms which followed were punishing.’

Now leading a small dedicated public health team,backed by advocacy for the under-served’ Rupert isn’t resting on his laurels: indeed, we can be thankful that he’s now ‘planning for the next pandemic, not the last one.’