Government considers statutory regulation of public health professionals

Authors: Helen Jaques 

Publication date:  14 Jan 2012


The Department of Health for England is considering compulsory statutory regulation of public health professionals after the Future Forum raised concerns about the lack of regulation of public health specialists who are not medically trained.

Professionals with a healthcare background such as nurses and scientists are able to take up public health registrar, consultant, and director posts without having completed a medical degree. However, they are not subject to compulsory regulation, unlike medically or dentally qualified professionals, whose conduct is overseen by the General Medical Council and the General Dental Council.

A UK register of public health specialists exists, but membership is voluntary. About a quarter of senior public health professionals are not medically qualified.

In its second phase review of education and training in the NHS, the Future Forum reported “particular concern” about the lack of oversight of non‐medical public health specialists and has recommended that the health department ensure that all public health specialists are regulated.

The department agreed in its response that some quality assurance of public health specialists was “essential.” The department and ministers are currently considering the evidence for compulsory statutory regulation of public health specialists and will bring forward proposals “very shortly.”

Public health professionals are responsible for putting in place behaviour change interventions that may have a negative effect on the public as well as a positive effect, so it is crucial that there is some form of accountability for all these professionals, medically qualified or not, said Richard Jarvis, co-chairman of the BMA’s Public Health Medicine Committee.

“The Public Health Medicine Committee has been calling for some time for regulation of all public health specialists to an equivalent standard to that provided by the GMC specialist register in public health medicine,” he said. “The standards need to be the same across the board, regardless of whether you’re a doctor or from another professional background, so long as the level is set at the highest standard rather than moving doctors downwards.”

The committee would favour a model in which all public health professionals are registered and regulated by a single body, potentially the Health Professions Council, and medically trained professionals would also continue to be registered by the General Medical Council.

Helen Jaques news reporter BMJ Careers

 hjaques@bmj.com

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