Public health scientist stocktake

Public health scientist stocktake

On 12 March 2015, we published a stocktake review of the diverse range of scientists working within Public Health England (PHE).

With rapid changes in technology and the new and broad remit of PHE, the roles and functions of science within the organisation are likely to look different over the coming years to what exists now.

To support PHE, as well as the Department of Health and Health Education England, the CfWI was commissioned to take a forward view of this workforce and estimate the likely size, shape and skills that will be required.


Our research suggests:

  • There is a high degree of uncertainty about the future demand for scientists for PHE. The large potential impact of government policy, in setting budgets, research and service delivery agenda makes the future demand highly aligned to political influence.
  • However, there are some factors that are more predictable, such as the increasing automation of diagnostic services, and the growth of genomics, proteomics and bioinformatics.
  • Skill mix for this profession is likely to change over a 15 year period, with possibly a reduction in the number of senior roles in life sciences (as processes become more automated), and a growth in demand for scientists trained in informatics.
  • Overall if recruitment and attrition remain as they have been in recent years, the number of scientists in PHE is likely to remain relatively stable over the coming 15 years. However changes to recruitment patterns, political influence, or retirement rates will change this outlook.

We have suggested that PHE considers:

  • Continued support of scientific career development, including increased secondment opportunities.
  • Building an increased profile of scientific functions in PHE, including reviewing and updating emergency response plans.
  • Greater investment in succession planning.
  • Ensure strong scientific leadership and representation on PHE’s executive. 
  • Expanding the skill set of microbiologists in genomics, computer science and bioinformatics
  • Wider promotion of Modernising Scientific Careers and working with the Academy for Healthcare Science to ensure recognition of equivalence.

The CfWI has provided the report to its commissioners to help inform workforce planning for this diverse workforce.

Read the full report here.