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Public health specialist capacity

The Five Year Forward View called for a radical upgrade in prevention and public health to close the health and wellbeing gap, and to reduce the burden of avoidable ill health.

The focus for Health Education England (HEE) and Public Health England (PHE) is to ensure the workforce is adequately resourced to meet future demand.

Since 2013, data on directors and consultants has been collected and collated biennially in monitoring the capacity of the public health specialist workforce. In 2017 we jointly undertook a data stock take of the public health specialist workforce in England.

Overall, the results reflected a growing distinction between those employed in local authorities, and those employed in PHE, the NHS and universities. This is likely to reflect the nature of roles within the sectors/organisations, as well as the historical development of the profession.

Results from 2017 can be found on this page.


In 2019, HEE and PHE repeated the exercise:

  • England: the public health specialist workforce (Directors of Public Health and Public Health Consultants) in all sectors has seen an overall increase of 5% since 2017, from to 965 FTEs to 1,013 FTEs. The national figure, however, masks noticeable differences by sector and region.
  • Local authorities: the specialist workforce has increased by 1% since 2017 (and has contracted by 3% since 2015) and is now estimated to be 459 FTEs. Indications are that future demand for public health specialists working for local authorities in England is set to rise by 3% between 2019 and 2022, with the North-East and North-West expecting demand increases far beyond the national average. Unfilled posts and vacancies for specialists’ roles in local authorities across England are generally observed at levels greater than reported in 2015 or 2017.
  • NHS and PHE: the number of public health specialists working in the NHS has risen by 14% (to 89 FTEs) and in PHE by 16% (to 315 FTEs) between 2017 and 2019. Both sectors are making an increased use of temporary fixed-term contracts in employing specialist staff, particularly the NHS where 40% are now employed on a temporary basis.
  • Higher education sector: professors, senior lecturers, readers, and lecturers in public health have an important role in education, training and research. These roles make up the specialist workforce in this sector which has seen a slight decrease in numbers since 2017 and is now estimated to be 150 FTEs.

Full details can be found in the report below. 88% of 152 local authorities with public health teams responded to the request for data. In addition, data was drawn from the NHS Electronic Staff Record, professional registers (GMC, GDC and UKPHR), the Higher Education Statistics Agency and recent clinical academic surveys for public health specialists working in the NHS, PHE and higher education sector.


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