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Public health specialist capacity review

The focus for Health Education England (HEE), NHS England and Improvement, Office for Health Improvement and Disparities (OHID) and UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) is to ensure the workforce is adequately resourced to meet future demand.

The latest report outlines the findings from the fourth comprehensive national census to capture the size and composition of the public health specialist workforce in England.

​This workforce census exercise has become a fixed point in understanding workforce numbers and demographics, unfilled and vacant posts and demand forecasts. The data collected enables us to monitor trends for this workforce. This data informs commissioning on public health specialists and supports improvements in data collection methods for public professionals across the system.​

The census builds on previous collections undertaken in 2015, 2017 and 2019, allowing a comprehensive timeseries analysis to be performed on a wide range of metrics. The 2021 national census took place as of 01 October 2021 and have achieved the highest response rate of 92%.


The key findings from the 2021 national census were:

  • England: the public health specialist workforce (Directors of Public Health and Public Health Consultants) an overall increase of 5% since 2019, from 1,007 FTE to 1064 FTE in 2021.
  • Local authorities: the specialist workforce has increased dramatically by 24% since 2019, from 453 FTE to 563 FTE in 2021. With a 9% expected increase in demand for PH Specialist by 2024 and 2.5% expected increase in demand for Directors of PH by 2024.
  • NHS: Excluding NHS England and Improvement and NICE in 2019, from ESR we estimated that 89 FTE Public Health Specialists were in post within the NHS in 2021 this figure decreased to 66 FTE.
  • Former Public Health England (PHE) (now OHID / UKHSA): the specialist workforce has decreased from 315 FTE in 2019 to 207 FTE in 2021.
  • 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 2019 from 150 FTE and is now estimated to be 146 FTE.

In addition, data was drawn from the NHS Electronic Staff Record, professional registers (General Medical Council (GMC), General Dental Council (GDC) and UK Public Health Register (UKPHR), the Higher Education Statistics Agency and recent clinical academic surveys for public health specialists working in the NHS, the former PHE (OHID / UKHSA) and higher education sector.

Full details can be found in the 2021 report.


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