Directors of public health as “a protected species”: qualitative study of the changing role of public health professionals in England following the 2013 reforms

Llinos Jehu, Shelina Visram, Linda Marks, David Hunter, Howard Davis, Anne Mason, Dan Liu, Joanne Smithson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Background: The Health and Social Care Act 2012 gave councils in England responsibility for improving the health of their populations. Public health teams were transferred from the NHS, accompanied by a ring-fenced public health grant. This study examines the changing role of these teams within local government.

Methods: In-depth case study research was conducted within 10 heterogeneous councils. Initial interviews (n=90) were carried out between October 2015 and March 2016, with follow-up interviews (n=21) 12 months later. Interviewees included elected members, directors of public health (DsPH) and other local authority officers, plus representatives from NHS commissioners, the voluntary sector and Healthwatch.

Results: Councils welcomed the contribution of public health professionals, but this was balanced against competing demands for financial resources and democratic leverage. DsPH – seen by some as a ‘protected species’ – were relying increasingly on negotiating and networking skills to fulfil their role. Both the development of the existing specialist public health workforce and recruitment to, and development of, the future workforce were uncertain. This poses both threats and opportunities.

Conclusions: Currently the need for staff to retain specialist skills and maintain UKPH registration is respected. However, action is needed to address how future public health professionals operating within local government will be recruited and developed.
Original languageEnglish
JournalJournal of public health
Publication statusPublished - 7 Nov 2017

Bibliographical note

© The Author 2017. Published by Oxford University Press on behalf of Faculty of Public Health. This is an author-produced version of the published paper. Uploaded in accordance with the publisher’s self-archiving policy. Further copying may not be permitted; contact the publisher for details.


  • management and policy
  • organizations
  • , public health

Cite this