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We've worked to understand the public health specialist workforce

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.

To support this, Health Education England (HEE), Public Health England (PHE), and others have taken a strategic approach to developing the public health workforce, in Fit for the Future – Public Health People.

The focus for HEE and PHE is to ensure the workforce is adequately resourced to meet future demand. In order to do this, we need to understand the current workforce; as such we jointly undertook a data stocktake of the public health specialist workforce in England – the results of which are published in the document below.

This piece of work has sought to review numbers working as public health consultants and Directors of Public Health as of March 2017, and follows a Centre for Workforce Intelligence stocktake of this workforce published in March 2016. Numbers are based on the following:

A survey of local authorities in April-June 2017 (with a 78% response rate from teams within the 152 local authorities);

  • Electronic Staff Record data For PHE and NHS organisations and providers;
  • Higher Education Statistics Agency data for universities for the 2015/16 year.

Our research suggests:

  • A total of 1,170 (965) FTE specialists and Directors of Public Health employed in local authorities, PHE, the NHS and universities – this is a 3% increase on comparable 2015 numbers;
  • Numbers have increased by 11% in PHE, the NHS and universities, but have fallen by 5% in local authorities since 2015;
  • Over half of public health specialists are aged 50 or over; 60% are female, and 55% are registered with the General Medical Council. There is some variation between sectors, with local authority staff more likely to be female, aged under 50 and from backgrounds other than medicine and PHE/NHS/university staff more likely to be male, over 50 and from a medical background

Overall, the results reflect 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 (with specialists from backgrounds other than medicine or dentistry only emerging in the last two decades).