Public health minister Anne Milton has told primary care trusts not to cut public health capacity, ahead of their transfer to local authorities as part of the government’s health reforms.

Ms Milton’s comments, made last week at a British Medical Association public health conference in London, follow concerns raised by the Royal College of Physicians’ Faculty of Public Health.

The medical body wrote to NHS London last month about proposals from the NHS North West London PCT “cluster” to reduce public health posts as part of its efforts to meet a government target of reducing NHS management costs by more than half by April.  

Department of Health rules ban most public health posts – with the exception of public health directors – from being included in these cuts.

However, the faculty claims the PCTs have reclassified public health staff as “corporate costs” in order to get round the rules and HSJ has learnt some medical staff in management and commissioning roles have already received letters warning them their job is “at risk”.  

Ms Milton said PCTs should not be “reclassifying public health posts in management terms” or giving such post holders “at risk” notices. She called on public health staff to notify her of similar incidents.

She said: “I know this is going on. I know in a particular area – north west London – where it’s going on. It is really important in the Department [of Health] that I know about these things, because it shouldn’t be happening.

“Public health money has been ringfenced and there shouldn’t be any reduction [in capacity].”

An NHS London spokesman said: “No public health jobs have been cut in north west London. However, PCTs in the area are discussing how they can merge management teams in line with government policy.

“North west London is ahead of other parts of the capital but no decisions have been made.  At the moment, these are options for consultation and it makes sense that we openly discuss the way forward with our staff and trade unions. 

“By bringing PCTs together, we can stop duplication and combine expertise in all areas – including public health.”