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One in five directors of public health expects to leave profession

Authors: Helen Jaques 

Publication date:  31 Dec 2011


As many as a fifth of public health directors in England expects to leave the profession in the next 18 months, either by seeking a job in another profession or retiring, a survey by the Association of Directors of Public Health has found.

The 107 directors of public health in England who completed the survey (a 74% response rate) also reported a loss of specialist public health staff, loss of funding, and redundancies in the past 12 months.

Many respondents reported loss of public health staff in their area over the past year, with only 20% reporting no loss of specialist capacity. Nearly one in five respondents (19%) reported loss of directors of public health in their region or loss of deputy or assistant directors of public health, or both. Almost a third (30%) reported loss of consultants in public health, and a similar proportion (31%) reported loss of other specialists.

Half the respondents reported unfilled posts in their region over the past 12 months, and 38% said that there had been redundancies. Half the directors of public health responding to the survey said that they had lost programme and other funding, with one director saying that the region had lost about £1m in total.

When asked where they saw themselves in 18 months’ time, two thirds (66%) of public health directors expected to be working in public health in their local authority, as per the government’s plans to transfer public health to local authorities by April 2013. However, 20% expected to be not working in public health or to retire in the next 18 months, and 13% thought that they would still be working in public health in 18 months’ time but not at their local authority.

This month the government set out plans for the structure of the new public health system in England, including the role and responsibilities of local government in public health and the operating model for Public Health England (http://healthandcare.dh.gov.uk/public-health-system). The fact sheets also cover the role of the director of public health and best practice for transfer of public health staff from primary care trusts to local authorities.

The guidelines indicate that directors of public health will act as the “lead officer” in a local authority for health and championing health across the whole authority. Directors will be directly accountable to the local authority’s chief executive for the discharge of the authority’s public health responsibilities and will have direct access to elected members. Directors of public health will also be statutory members of health and wellbeing boards.

Further operational details—including a public health outcomes framework, a public health workforce strategy for consultation, and details of public health funding—will be published in the new year, the Department of Health has said.

Helen Jaques news reporter BMJ Careers

 hjaques@bmj.com

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