Specialist public health capacity in England: Working in the new primary care organizations
Objectives. To determine the capacity and development needs, in relation to key areas of competency and skills, of the specialist public health workforce based in primary care organizations following the 2001 restructuring of the UK National Health Service. Study design. Question naire survey to all consultants and specialists in public health (including directors of public health) based in primary care trusts (PCTs) and strategic health authorities (SHAs) in England. Results. Participants reported a high degree of competency. However, skill gaps were evident in some areas of public health practice, most notably 'developing quality and risk management' and in relation to media communication, computing, management and leadership. In general, medically qualified individuals were weaker on community development than non-medically qualified specialists, and non-medically qualified specialists were less able to perform tasks that require epidemiological or clinical expertise than medically qualified specialists. Less than 50% of specialists felt that their links to external organizations, including public health networks, were strong. Twenty-nine percent of respondents felt professionally isolated and 22% reported inadequate team working within their PCT or SHA. Approximately 21% of respondents expressed concerns that they did not have access to enough expertise to fulfil their tasks and that their skills were not being adequately utilized. Conclusions. Some important skill gaps are evident among the specialist public health workforce although, in general, a high degree of competency was reported. This suggests that the capacity deficit is a problem of numbers of specialists rather than an overall lack of appropriate skills. Professional isolation must be addressed by encouraging greater partnership working across teams. © 2004 The Royal Institute of Public Health. Published by Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.