Headlines: March 30th, 2006

Doctors’ leaders are warning that flagship government policies to improve public health will be undermined unless cuts in the number of training posts are reversed and there is an end to the loss of key jobs. Public health doctors from The British Medical Association say the squeeze on training is recklessly short sighted.The BMA warning came after figures from the Faculty of Public Health showed there would be a 40 per cent reduction in training posts in the specialty this year. It says that the Public Health specialty needs to expand to tackle the health gap between the best and worst off people. Dr Justin Varney, a junior doctor member of the BMA’s Public Health Committee , said, “Public health doctors are strategically placed, co-ordinating across health, government and social services to tackle obesity, oversee local initiatives like reducing heart disease, and lead the UK’s immunisation and screening programmes.”

The Faculty of Public Health study showed that nearly a fifth of consultants working in public health were considering leaving within the next five years and that, adds the BMA, makes doctor training even more crucial. Almost a third of postgraduate deaneries, the bodies that oversee junior doctors’ training, are also planning to cancel training programmes in public health.

Dr Chris Spencer-Jones, BMA’s Public Health Committee Chair, said the ‘Choosing Health’ White Paper had set out a vision of improving health through supporting communities but only just over a third of local primary care trusts in England believed they had the capacity to deliver public health effectively.

“Continual reorganisation of PCTs and health authorities have put severe strain on public health teams, and resulted in a substantial drop in the capacity needed to deliver the public health agenda,” he added. Public health was already under severe strain and a drop in the number of trainees, and changes resulting in job losses, left little hope for effective public health action.