WORKFORCE: The primary care trust’s board will tomorrow be asked to back a document warning that government plans could “fragment” the public health workforce and put the public at “serious risk” in epidemic situations.

In a response to the government white paper “Healthy Lives Healthy People”, North Lancashire director of public health Frank Atherton writes: “The integration of local directors of public health into local authorities provides a chance of real improvements in health and well-being.

“However, with such changes there are also risks. England needs an integrated system for delivery of public health outcomes as there is a significant risk that these proposals could result in fragmentation of the public health workforce, of commissioning and finance responsibility for public health programmes, and fragmentation of accountability, particularly in the area of health protection.”

He adds: “Local authorities should be responsible for protecting and improving the health of their populations at all times, including during outbreaks and emergency situations. Public Health England should support local authorities in doing this, and local authorities should be required to use the skills and expertise of public health specialists to deliver health and wellbeing for their local population.

“However, we are concerned that neither the public health white paper (nor the Health and Social Care Bill) articulate these responsibilities clearly, which could put the public at serious risk, particularly in emergency or epidemic situations.”

The response calls for these responsibilities to be defined in primary legislation.

The trust board will be asked to support the response at its next meeting on Wednesday, 30 March.

Mr Atherton is also president of the Association of Directors of Public Health.