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

Steve Ainsworth is mistaken in his view that public health is about number crunching. It is about making a difference to the health of the population by applying the knowledge and skills of public health practice.

While some public health tasks may not necessarily require a medic to do them, there is the added value they can bring. For example, if a non-medical director of public health is asked to investigate an apparent cluster of a rare cancer, such as retinoblastoma, the first thing they are likely to do is look for a medic to explain to them what it is. As for saving money by doing away with costly doctors, many ofthe new non-medic DPH appointments have been advertised on similar salary scales to them.

In addition, where is the evidence to suggest qualified managers with an administrative background are better equipped for these appointments? If the author hopes we never forget our debt to public health doctors, why denigrate their role in the first place?

Dr Marie McDevitt Evidence for Population Health Unit School of Epidemiology and Health Sciences Manchester University