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Do Local Authorities need a Director of Public Health?


As local authorities start to get to grips with their new public health responsibilities there is the inevitable jostling for position and power in terms of where the public health teams sit.

In the non-statutory Public Health England guidance (produced jointly with the Local Government Assocation and the Faculty of Public Health) on appointment of directors of public health by local authorities there is a clear position that the Director of Public should have “accountability for acting as the lead officer in a local authority for heath” and “to enable them to carry out their role effectively there must be direct accountability between the DPH and and the local authority chief executive”. In most cases this is taken to mean that the Director of Public Health should have equal standing at the Executive Team as others such as the Director of Adult Social Care.

Some local authorities have not fallen obediently into line on this and have instead had the DPH reporting to the Director of Adult Services or even, as in Lancashire have had a none Faculty member take on the DPH role.

I think that some of the reasons why there has not been a consistent adherence to this model have been:

While I have not been able to check this thoroughly there are roughly 26 Directors of Adult Social Care who include ‘health’ in there title (ADASS Members with Health in Job Title). This equates to approximately 5% of all Directors of Adult Social Care. Of these it is clear that some see themselves as the most senior champion for health in their local authority and in some cases probably manage the DPH – for example Derby.

Despite this I think that in the majority of cases most Directors of Public Health are in the top team reporting directly to the Chief Executive. But, as Mary Black in her good blog on the Faculty of Public Health website notes

“Those of us who are (on the top managment team) will need to demonstrate pretty fast that we deserve those seats and in some places we may well struggle to keep them. We have another 18 months, perhaps less, to prove our value.”

What is also interesting is that in addition to people like Mary who have a realistic and positive story to tell there are others who appear to have gone even further. So in my list of 26 Directors of Adult Social Care three of them are actually Directors of Public Health. Maggie Rae in Wiltshire, Richard Harling in Worcestershire and Paul Edmondson-Jones in York – whose job title is Deputy Chief Executive and Director of Public Health and Adult Social Services!

When we look at the structure chart for Wiltshire it is quite clear that Maggie is responsible for leading on Adult Social Care.

So, what we have here is a bit of a two way street. Some local authorities have clearly been impressed by the skills and experience of their Director of Public Heath and considered that these mean that they should also take on the Adult Social Care portfolio. While others have been more impressed by what the Adult Social Care profession has to offer and gone down that route.

Now, I don’t subscribe to the Association of Directors of Adult Social Care ebulletin so I have no idea if Sandie Keene their President is outraged by this colonisation of her territory.

I do subscribe to the Faculty of Public Health ebulletin and I know that John Ashton the Faculty President is not sanguine about Adult Social Care leading on Public Health.

“It is ludicrous to have the situation, as there has been in Lancashire, where a social worker is appointed Executive Director of Social Services and Public Health. We must be clear where we stand on issues such as this and draw lines in the sand. Social workers are most welcome to come to us and train as public health specialists and consultants”

FPH Bulletin – Issue 102 – August 2013

This is of course a serious debate

There is therefore an urgent need to consider how best to ensure that local authorities and their partners are offered appropriately trained professionals who they can afford to pay.

If localism means anything then we need as a profession to consider how to support confident local authorities like Lancashire, Wiltshire and York to have the freedom to choose the best person for the job and not to be constrained by closed shops.

It is clear that for some local authorities the key issue is competence not the ‘FPH badge’ I suspect that this trend will continue. We therefore need to be developing a refreshed idea of what public health in local authorities might look like. Part of this must be through developing a shared dialogue with the other partner professions who have been working in local government and in many cases making it work well for the 40 or so years that Public Health has been in exile in the NHS.

What do you think?

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