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Times publishes letter from leading health figures on health bill concerns

The Faculty of Public Health (FPH) has brought together leading health organisations in a letter published by The Times that raises awareness of our concerns about the Health and Social Care Bill.

Published on Thursday 27 October, the letter was signed by:

  • Professor Sir Neil Douglas, Chairman, Academy of Medical Royal Colleges
  • Dr Frank Atherton, President, Association of Directors of Public Health
  • Dr Richard Jarvis, Co-Chairman, Public Health Medicine Committee, British Medical Association
  • Sir Richard Thompson, President, Royal College of Physicians
  • Dr Neil Dewhurst, President, Royal College of Physicians of Edinburgh
  • Mr Ian Anderson, President, Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Glasgow

The letter was timed to reach members of the House of the Lords as they begin their detailed analysis of the Bill and amendments to it. FPH has been working closely with Lord Patel and other members of the House of Lords to address our concerns, which are based on ongoing and close consultation with our expert members.

Our four main concerns are around:

  • The qualifications of directors of public health
  • The role of the new agency Public Health England
  • How outbreaks of disease and emergencies will be managed
  • The regulation of public health professionals

The text we sent to The Times for publication was as follows:

Sir, The Health and Social Care BiIl, which is currently being debated in the House of Lords, proposes major changes to the English public health system. We have serious concerns that the health of the public will be put at risk unless the Bill is amended.

Directors of Public Health, who are responsible for the health of thousands of people, will be employed by local authorities and will have far-reaching responsibilities for the health of hundreds of thousands of people. Inexplicably, the Bill does not require them to have any public health qualifications. Nor does it ensure that they will be in a position to influence local decisions or to speak out in the public interest on professional matters.

Public Health England, the new national organisation which will provide advice and support, will be trusted only if its advice is expert and independent. Independence will be a challenge if, as proposed, it is an agency of the Department of Health.     

The Bill does not make clear who is responsible for ensuring an effective response to local outbreaks of communicable disease and other health emergencies. Local authorities should be responsible: confusion will lead to delay, inefficiency and, potentially, deaths. 

Finally, we are calling for all public health specialists to be registered by law, to protect the public from incompetence or malpractice. The public must be able to trust the people who make life-or-death decisions about their health. We cannot afford to wait until a tragedy occurs before holding all specialists to account.

Public health services are largely invisible – until things go wrong. These amendments are vital to continue keeping the public safe from harm, whether they realise it or not.

Yours sincerely,

Professor Lindsey Davies, President, Faculty of Public Health
Professor Sir Neil Douglas, Chairman, Academy of Medical Royal Colleges
Dr Frank Atherton, President, Association of Directors of Public Health
Dr Richard Jarvis, Co-Chairman, Public Health Medicine Committee, British Medical Association
Sir Richard Thompson, President, Royal College of Physicians
Dr Neil Dewhurst, President, Royal College of Physicians of Edinburgh
Mr Ian Anderson, President, Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Glasgow

Written: 08/11/2011 , last modified: 06/02/2012