More than one in ten public health director roles remain unfilled at local authorities, in a situation GP leaders have warned risks a leadership vacuum in the event of an outbreak or emergency.
Public Health England, the new body responsible for public health, said that 16 out of 134 posts remain unfilled since their transfer from PCTs to local authorities on 1 April, a situation that may hamper GPs’ responses to a health emergency.
GP leaders warned that this could lead to a ‘breakdown’ in the system at a time when LMCs are encountering problems with the transfer of public health LESs to local authorities.
A spokesperson for Public Health England told Pulse: ‘There’s 16 vacancies for full-time posts, but there are interim arrangement in place in those areas where there isn’t a permanent post’, such as Kingston-upon-Hull in Humberside and St Helens in the north west.
However, the BMA has warned that the unfilled posts could be a problem in the event of an outbreak of infectious disease or an epidemic.
Dr Richard Vautrey, deputy GPC chair, said: ‘In emergency situations it is crucial that there is clear leadership and if this does not come from the director of public health then the whole system could break down, undermining the ability to respond at a time of crisis.’
Dr John Hughes, chair of Manchester LMC, told Pulse earlier this week: ‘We have had no communication about who we contact in case things go wrong. We haven’t been told who the public health consultant is, who we contact if there is a major outbreak of infectious disease or an epidemic. It isn’t properly sorted and it won’t be properly sorted for six months.’
A council spokesperson in Kingston-upon-Hull – one of the areas without a director of public health – said its vacancy for the director of public health position would be unlikely to be filled until mid-May at the earliest. It is currently being covered by the local authority’s corporate director for city services.
Dr Russell Walshaw, chief executive of the Humberside Group of LMCs, said it ‘badly needs a director of public health to be appointed’.
He also warned that the transfer of public health LESs to local authorities has had problems.
Dr Walshaw told Pulse: ‘A number of enhanced services that were provided by the PCT have now gone to the local authorities and they are commissioning the LESs from GPs.
‘Contracts that local authorities are putting out are not three to four pages like the enhanced services were, they more like an inch thick document of 60- to 70 pages of requirements.’
Last month, Pulse reported that public health LESs held by practices were likely to be put out to full competitive tender after the DH advised local authorities they should use ‘appropriate procurement approaches’ and not give GPs preferred provider status.
Pulse Live: 30 April – 1 May, Birmingham
You can find out more about how to protect your earnings at Pulse Live, Pulse’s new two-day annual conference for GPs, practice managers and primary care managers. Richard Apps, partner at RSM Tenon, will be presenting a session on how to maximise your practice income and keep an eye on your cash flow.
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