Intended for healthcare professionals


Public Health England defends appointments of heads of public health without specialty training

BMJ 2013; 347 doi: (Published 03 September 2013) Cite this as: BMJ 2013;347:f5428
  1. Helen Jaques, news reporter
  1. 1BMJ Careers
  1. hjaques{at}

Public Health England has defended the process for appointing senior public health staff to local authorities, amid concern that some councils have appointed people without appropriate specialty training.

Lancashire County Council, Telford and Wrekin Council, and Bolton Council have appointed people who aren’t trained in public health to take charge of joint public health and social services departments.1 The Faculty of Public Health said that the appointments were a “disaster” and could undermine the recruitment and retention of public health doctors at local authorities.

Public Health England has clarified that these public health leads will be supported by statutory directors of public health in their team who have undertaken specialty training in public health.

In a letter to the heads of public health organisations, Public Health England said that it supported Lancashire County Council and Telford and Wrekin Council throughout the appointments process to ensure that the councils complied with the regulations on appointing senior public health staff.23

In the case of Lancashire the council was not able to find a suitable candidate for the role of director of public health with responsibility for social care. With support from Public Health England, the council appointed someone with a background in social care to the role of executive director of adult services and public health and agreed to make a further appointment of a statutory director of public health for the area.

Telford and Wrekin Council has appointed a specialist qualified in public health to the post of director of public health and assistant director for health and wellbeing, who will support the leader of the combined social services and public health directorate.

Since responsibility for public health was transferred from the NHS to local authorities in April this year, each local authority has been required to appoint a director of public health who will be directly responsible to the local authority’s chief executive for the exercise of the local authority’s public health responsibilities.

Councils are required to work with Public Health England, acting on behalf of the health secretary, and with the Faculty of Public Health to ensure that directors of public health have the necessary technical and professional skills for the job. These organisations have a role in agreeing the job description with the local authority and ensuring that the recruitment and selection process was robust.

Public Health England told BMJ Careers that it was “absolutely committed to supporting local authorities in recruiting first class public health professionals capable of leading the sea change we all wish to see in promoting prevention and early intervention over late diagnosis and treatment and the growing burden of disease, the number one public health challenge facing the nation.”

It said that the actual organisation and structure of public health within a council was a matter for the council to decide and would vary around the country.


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