Published: 25/07/2002, Volume II2, No. 5816 Page 21

Steve Ainsworth's view that public health professionals can be replaced with 'administrators and statisticians' is designed to be provocative ('Yorkshire terrier', page 18, 11 July).

Public health professionals are used to struggling against indifference, but his statement that 'public health is essentially about number crunching' reveals a profound ignorance or a deep-seated antagonism.

Let me set the record straight.

The appointment of the first directors of public health from non-medical backgrounds is the culmination of many years of effort by many senior public health doctors to help colleagues from non-medical backgrounds to become qualified, trained and experienced public health professionals. The ending of the requirement for directors of public health to be medically qualified does not mean any diminution in the skills required for the job. Rather it is the opposite as the range of threats to the public constantly evolves, bio-terrorism and HIV being but two key examples.

Steve Ainsworth is only the latest in a long series of commentators who have predicted the demise of public health. This leads me to formulate 'the inverse prediction law'. This states that the prospects for the public health profession are inversely related to the occurrence of commentaries that predict its demise.

Dr Gabriel Scally Regional director of public health (South West)