Public health practitioners are those people in the public health workforce who spend much or all of their time in public health practice. They are key members of the professional public health workforce and can have a huge influence on the health and wellbeing of individuals, groups, communities and populations. They work across the full breadth of public health from health improvement and health protection, to health information, community development, and nutrition, in a wide range of settings from local government and the NHS to the voluntary, and private sectors. It is vital that these professionals are competent in, and accountable for, what they do.
Although they carry out key public health roles, many public health practitioners remain unregulated.
Since 2003, the UK Public Health Register (UKPHR) has provided public protection by ensuring that only competent public health professionals, at specialist level, are registered and that high standards of practice are maintained. In April 2011, the register opened for practitioners and, in June, the first two practitioners from Public Health Wales were admitted.
The opening of the practitioner route to the UKPHR is a significant development. Up until then the register had only offered routes for those at specialist level, practising in general or defined areas of public health.
The term ‘public health practitioner’ is designed to describe a level of practice – not a specific job role or type of job. The UKPHR has taken the broad definition of a ‘public health practitioner’ as someone who has autonomy in specific areas of public health work, continually developing their area of work and supporting others to understand it.
In 2006, the UKPHR was commissioned by the four UK countries (through the English Department of Health, the Welsh Assembly Government, the Scottish Government and the Department of Health and Social Services and Public Safety (Northern Ireland)), to look at the possibility of developing a regulatory framework for public health practitioners. An extensive UK-wide consultation took place from 2008 – 2009 and supported the development of Public Health Practitioner standards for registration.
Initially, both practitioner and advanced practitioner registration ‘levels’ were identified. However, the Council for Healthcare Regulatory Excellence (CHRE) found that much of what is called ‘advanced practice’ represents an individual’s career progression and should be recognised through professional accreditation rather than through regulation. The UKPHR therefore decided to progress with a single level of practitioner registration.
Assessment against the standards is the basis for four local assessment and verification pilot schemes supported by the UKPHR. The schemes currently available in the UK are listed below.
Registration is designed to assure public, employers and commissioners that public health professionals are appropriately qualified and competent, providing confidence in the service. Professional regulation increases the recognition of the professions that it covers while registrants can demonstrate their commitment to high professional standards. Employers have clarity in the competence they can expect at different levels of the workforce and are provided with assurance of conduct. The overall purpose of regulation is to protect the public by ensuring that registered individuals are fit to practise and that they meet and maintain the standards set by the register.
The UKPHR sets standards for registration that are recognised throughout the UK. It requires registrants to meet these standards, to maintain competence through CPD and revalidation, and to adhere to a code of conduct. This provides significant public protection from unprofessional or unethical behaviour as well as enhancing recognition for the public health professional.
Requirements to become registered
At present you can only apply to register as a public health practitioner with the UKPHR through a local assessment and verification scheme.
Currently, there are eight schemes in the UK and you need to work in the areas the schemes cover in order to participate. Note that, from 1 April 2012, the former NHS South Central scheme has been divided into two separate programmes (Wessex and Oxford). The schemes are therefore:
Public Health Wales
Contact: Claire Barley
For information about the the Welsh Practitioner portfolio Development Programme, click here.
Health Education West Midlands
Contact: Sally James
NHS Kent and Medway
Contact: Sylvia Beacham ()
West of Scotland
The scheme, launched on 9 February 2012, is a collaboration between NHS Greater Glasgow & Clyde, NHS Ayrshire & Arran, NHS Lanarkshire and NHS Highland.
Individuals cannot apply directly to UKPHR. However, they can get involved in setting up a scheme locally or regionally. This will require some funding (which UKPHR has kept as low as possible to cover only essential costs) and local resource to co-ordinate and support the scheme. The UKPHR provides the training and quality assurance for the assessors and verifiers who are recruited locally. The UKPHR would be delighted to have more local schemes. Further information can also be found at the UKPHR website under Introduction to the Route to Registration for Public Health Practitioners.
Pilot scheme coordinators are also very happy to share their experiences and support others to develop schemes and to this end a national group has already been established. See the document below on Guidance on Setting Up Your Practitioner Registration Scheme from NHS Kent and Medway.
Setting up a scheme requires funding for:
- Adaptation of guidance documents and training materials
- Initiation meeting
- Introductory day for applicants
- Training for assessors (two days)
- Training for verifiers
- Moderation, including attendance at two verification panels
- Support and audit for one year
- Plus costs of learning and development support for applicants
[The above derives largely, but with additions and minor changes, from UKPHR News, Vol. 1, no. 1 (Autumn 2011) and is reproduced with permission]
National Award Ceremony
On 7 Devember 2011, a National Award Ceremony took place to celebrate the very first PH Practitioners to be registered on the UK PH Register in England. The event celebrated the achievements of public health practitioners across the UK and brought together public health practitioners, local scheme co-ordinators, assessors and verifiers to celebrate the success of the pilot programmes and the achievements so far made. The photograph shows those who were presented with their certificates by Peter Farley on the day.
- Practitioner standards
Adobe PDF document, 115 KB
- Capacity, competence and standards in public health
Microsoft Word document, 46 KB
- Guidance on setting up your practitioner registration scheme
Guidance on setting up your practitioner registration scheme
Microsoft Word document, 300 KB
- Framework and guidance for applicants and assessors
Framework and guidance for applicants and assessors
Microsoft Word document, 2 MB
- Supporting information for applicants and assessors
Supporting information for applicants and assessors
Microsoft Word document, 385 KB
- Practitioner Registration Tools and Tips August 2012
Microsoft Word document, 847 KB
- Public health skills and knowledge in the draft public health practitioner standards
Microsoft Word document, 56 KB