Chief medical officer Dame Sally Davies has said she will try and “twist some arms” to find a solution to the unemployment crisis facing the public health medical workforce.

The pledge to look into the issue comes as the Department of Health prepares to publish a policy update paper on its public health proposals next week.

The Faculty of Public Health and the British Medical Association have warned that the latest batch of public health registrars coming to the end of their five-year training programmes are finding it almost impossible to find full-time posts.

Uncertainty caused by the government’s reform process and increasing pressure on primary care trusts to save money has led to a dramatic reduction in public health posts being advertised, they have warned.

Speaking on Monday at the Faculty of Public Health annual conference in Birmingham, chief medical officer Dame Sally Davies said she was aware that some public health registrars were unable to find jobs and found it “very disturbing because we are going to need them”.

She told delegates that “a piece of work” was being undertaken by the Department of Health looking at the current public health workforce and what future demand would be.

But she was forced to go further, after faculty president Professor Lindsey Davies asked her what the DH could do now to help “people in difficulty today and tomorrow”.

In response Dame Sally admitted to being “caught on the hop” but said she would go back to the DH and enquire about the situation.

She said: “We will pick it up and see if we can twist the relevant arms. I don’t promise we’ll get there but we’ll do our best.”

Corinne Camilleri-Ferrante, chair of the faculty’s healthcare public health committee, told HSJ that public health jobs “fell through the floor” after the Health Bill was published.

She said: “Where normally there would be four or five jobs a week you might get one a month.”

She estimated around 200 registrars would be left unemployed over the next 12 months.

It follows evidence, reported in HSJ last week, that directors of public health and their teams were increasingly facing redundancy or starting to look at leaving the sector.

Also speaking at the conference, health secretary Andrew Lansley said he hoped to publish an “update” on the government’s public health proposals next week, though it will not be a full command paper.

Ms Lansley said: “It won’t be a command paper as such because that wouldn’t provide as much leeway for discussion and development.”