Gaps remain in public health workforce development

Published on Monday, 10 March 2014 14:32
Written by Phillip Woodward

One thing clear to me is that the NHS has been well organised and well resourced when it comes to workforce training and development. Now we've moved into a new system, Health Education England (HEE) has picked up the overarching responsibility for taking this agenda forward and, in its first year of operation, seems to be moving things in the right direction.

At least, this seems true if you're a medic, clinician, nurse or other allied health professional. What is a little less clear at this stage is where the strategic planning and coordination is coming from if you are looking to find support, accreditation or recognition for the development of your knowledge and competence as a health professional working in the wider public health workforce.

If you're a director or consultant in public health then you have the faculty to turn to for advice and guidance. However, if you do not aspire to these dizzy heights and are content with doing a real job on the frontline there seem to be some gaps at the moment if you want to benchmark your skills and personal development just in case that job comes along that you really fancy.

This might be the situation faced by a range of people now working in local government or in the voluntary/community/faith sectors on issues such as health promotion, health improvement or behaviour change programmes, or if you're a health champion for example. And let's not forget the people who work in other parts of the local government service network, outside of the public health teams, who make a difference on a daily basis to the wider determinants of health such as housing or leisure provision. To me, they too are part of the wider public health workforce.

You might have noticed that I've written four paragraphs on this subject already without mentioning Public Health England. In the same vein as HEE, PHE is a new organisation that has to establish its role and make its mark in the new system.

It is already doing a great job in many areas but there are some key comments in the recent health select committee report about the pace of the progress it is making in some areas of its work. At the launch of the report the chair of that committee, Stephen Dorrell MP was quoted as saying: "Parliament created PHE as an independent voice within government to champion the policies that will make the greatest difference to the nation's health but the organisation has not yet developed a clear set of priorities."

Now that the transition of the PH workforce into local government is pretty much complete, one of the priorities on which it might focus is to put some definition and scope on who it is who makes up the wider public health workforce and then taking the lead to ensure the right blend of education, training and development programmes is available to support both the individuals delivering our public health services and the organisations that employ them.

Although HEE states that it "provides national leadership on planning and developing the healthcare and public health workforce", I fear it will never have the same focus on the public health workforce as it will on the professional/clinical side of the healthcare sector. For me this is a job for Public Health England and should be something it gives some priority to in the coming months.

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