Public health consultant and specialist survey

Public health consultant and specialist survey

Commissioned by Public Health England, Health Education England and the Department of Health, the survey results provide a snapshot of current career intentions and issues affecting recruitment and retention within the public health specialist workforce since the changes to the public health system introduced on 1 April 2013 which resulted in responsibility for public health transferring from the NHS to local authorities. The CfWI expects the results of this survey to be used by commissioners and workforce planners - notably by PHE, HEE and the DH - to help inform future workforce numbers and the commissioning of future education and training.

The survey was conducted online in November and December 2013 with just over half of the target population participating. It revealed the following key findings:

  • Job satisfaction – public health consultants and specialists rated their job satisfaction as 6 out of 10 on average. Many appreciated the variety of their work and the potential to make an impact, with 52 per cent giving a job satisfaction rating of 7 out of 10 or higher. Respondents working in universities and NHS trusts reported, on average, the highest job satisfaction scores of 7 out of 10. Those working for local authorities – which accounted for 53 per cent of respondents – were on average, less satisfied scoring 5.5 compared with those working for PHE (6.2) and NHS trusts (7.1).
  • Career intentions – just over half of respondents expected to remain in their current post for the next one to two years, and just over 20 per cent over the next three to five years. The main reasons for leaving were exploring new career opportunities (over one to two years) and retirement (over three to five years). Half of all local authority staff expressed an interest in working elsewhere in the public health system in the future.
  • Changing roles and responsibilities – over 70 per cent of respondents anticipated changes to their roles and responsibilities over the next one to two years, with changes to organisational boundaries, policy and procedures most commonly cited as expected changes.
  • Career support – over half of respondents rated the support provided by their employer as 6 out of 10 or higher, suggesting that overall career support was moderately good while a sizeable minority rated the level of support from their employer as 3 out of 10 or lower.  Respondents wanted greater access to professional networks and mentors, and more training on strategic leadership.
  • Education and training – the most popular suggestions to encourage new applicants to the profession were clearly defined career pathways, a clear vision for public health, and favourable terms and conditions.
  • Career recommendation – encouragingly, 48 per cent said they would recommend a career in public health, compared to only 22 per cent of respondents who would not.  Those least likely to recommend a career in public health were medically trained, males and those in mid-career, raising concerns about fragmentation of the service and uncertain career progression. Those working in health improvement (54 per cent) and health protection (53 per cent) were among the most positive about the profession.

A wide range of views and perspectives were revealed by the survey, with much variation within and across professional, employer and geographic groups.  The survey indicated that many staff found a career in public health to be satisfying and rewarding, but that a number have concerns about the future of the profession as a whole and their own careers in particular. From these, the CfWI have made a series of recommendations to address potential workforce challenges. These have been provided to PHE, HEE and the DH for use to consider for future strategies.

The survey results can be used to inform further discussions on:

  • Providing greater clarity on future roles and responsibilities to address the uncertainty reported by employees working for local authorities.
  • The identification and sharing of good career management practices across the whole system.
  • The development of training courses focused on helping public health professionals engage more effectively with, and within, local authorities.
  • Creating stronger networks and communities of interest, allowing staff to interact across organisational boundaries.
  • Developing advice on succession planning and other techniques to retain and motivate mid-career employees.
  • Working to reduce barriers between employers (e.g. terms and conditions) so that staff can transfer between them during their careers more easily.
  • Using the momentum created by recent changes to raise the profile of public health and present ‘change’ as a positive thing, setting out the opportunities presented and the benefits to be delivered.

Public Health England, Health Education England, the Department of Health and the Centre for Workforce Intelligence would like to thank all organisations who helped promote the survey, and most importantly all respondents who took the time to fill out the survey. The findings from the survey will be used to inform future workforce planning and decision-making in public health.

Read the full report.

View an infographic highlighting the key findings from the report.