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GPs’ role in public health under spotlight

Consultation on public health workforce launched

Adrian O'Dowd

Thursday, 29 March 2012

The role of GPs in public health and how to strengthen their training in this area is being considered in a consultation document on the public health workforce launched this week by the government.

The Department of Health consultation Healthy Lives, Healthy People: Towards a workforce strategy for the public health system is seeking to identify and “unlock the potential” of the people responsible for improving the population’s health and wellbeing.

Under the government’s NHS reforms, responsibility for public health will pass to local government, but the consultation stresses that the public health workforce is diverse in the nature of the functions it performs and in its settings.

The document says GPs have a critical role in providing advice, brief interventions and referral to targeted services through their daily contact with patients.

Some GPs will also play a crucial leadership role in clinical commissioning groups, which will need to work with local authorities and a range of health professionals to commission healthcare services in ways that contribute to improvements in health.

The government’s White Paper Healthy Lives, Healthy People identified Public Health England – the new body that will lead on public health – as having a key role in strengthening the focus on public health in the training of GPs.

The document asks: “How can the public health element of GP training and continued professional development be enhanced?”

This consultation covers the anticipated challenges and opportunities of the changes to public health services as well as wider workforce and local community issues in creating the right public health specialist workforce.

It says: “The current changes to the public health system will have a significant impact on the public health workforce and will lead to a new system of delivery that will need new skills and new ways of working.”

England’s chief medical officer (CMO) will continue to have a leadership role for public health professionals following the establishment of Public Health England, says the document.

Public health minister Anne Milton and Sir Merrick Cockell, chairman of the Local Government Association, said in the consultation’s foreword: “There are a wide range of skills throughout the public, voluntary and private sectors that, if coordinated, could make a sizeable difference to our health and wellbeing, and address health inequalities.

“At this time of change and challenge there are many opportunities to do things better.

“Public health will continue to be a rewarding career that will attract the best people who are ambitious to address the major challenges faced by our population now and in the future.”

Responses to the consultation and consultation events to be held this summer will feed into a public health workforce strategy, which will be published in the autumn.

The consultation closes on June 29.

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