Everyone is entitled to their opinion and to express it. But Professor Maynard, who I have always respected as a fair and decent human being, has contravened the rules by which a free society exists and flourishes.

His diatribe on the value of public health physicians not only displays his ignorance of the complex nature of public health medicine but his disrespect for the skills and abilities of a long-established medical specialty.

I will not belittle myself by entering into a fruitless dispute about the value of public health medicine and its contribution to improving health. We earn our respect by our actions.

Some of the brightest young stars in the medical profession specialise in public health, despite the fact that in every generation there is a Professor Maynard doing his best to rubbish their life's work.

May I remind him that without an effective drainage and sewage system, he would probably have died by now from the plague, typhus or another of the communicable diseases brought under control by actions of my illustrious predecessors of the 19th and 20th centuries.

I am proud of the fact that the root causes of ill-health, such as poverty, poor nutrition and housing, and dangerous employment, were first recognised and dealt with by doctors with a broad vision of population health and disease.

I would also remind Professor Maynard that before doctors practise public health medicine, they have to train as undergraduates for five years, practise clinical medicine for at least three years and then complete a further four years' training, designed to integrate a wide variety of fields into a comprehensive whole.

I cannot understand why anyone would belittle our achievements in such a destructive manner. Surely this attack on our integrity is antipathetic to the spirit of the new NHS - partnership and multidisciplinary teamwork.

Frada Eskin

Deputy director of public health

Sheffield HA