With all the changes and developments in the health service I am surprised my friend Alan Maynard, feels he has to return to the tired old theme of attacking 'drains doctors'. Although Alan himself is an honorary member of the Faculty of Public Health Medicine, he seems to be unaware of its current thinking on the public health function.

He correctly lists some of the components of education and training for those wishing to become specialists in public health medicine; namely sociology, statistics, management and economics. He fails to recognise the continuing importance of communicable disease control and environmental health. These are two vital skills for public health doctors and their colleagues, now far removed from any association with drains. But the question remains - do public health specialists need to be public health doctors?

The faculty has long held the view that public health practice is best supported by a strong multidisciplinary workforce. For this reason, we are working with the Royal Institute of Public Health and Hygiene and the Multidiciplinary Public Health Forum to develop core competencies and standards for education and training in multidisciplinary public health. We expect all public health specialists will be required to reach high standards of competency whatever their background.

To expect any public health professional to provide a high-quality service on the cheap is insulting.

The public health white paper is expected to announce such a restructuring of the public health workforce. The faculty fully supports these measures and welcomes the centre-stage role being given to public health. In this case surely the question is not, can we continue to afford public health doctors, but rather are there adequate resources to train the wide range of skilled professionals necessary to meet the broad spectrum of demands for public health? The faculty believes this must be the time to invest in public health in all disciplines if we are to meet the government's new targets and deliver the public health service this country deserves.

Professor James McEwen


Faculty of Public Health Medicine

Royal College of Physicians