UK Voluntary Register For
Public Health Specialists

Background to the Voluntary Register

The establishment of the UK Voluntary Register for Public Health Specialists is the culmination of four years work by the Tripartite Group, in collaboration with many other organisations and individuals in public health.

The Tripartite Group
Faculty of Public Health Medicine
Multidisciplinary Public Health Forum
Royal Institute of Public Health

Early in 1998, the Faculty of Public Health Medicine (now the Faculty of Public Health), the Multidisciplinary Public Health Forum and the Royal Institute of Public Health made an agreement to work together towards a system of multidisciplinary accreditation, for public health professionals. This arose out of concern that many disciplines play a key part in public health, at government, community and individual level, but that the skills of many such professionals are neither fully appreciated nor systemically developed. The Faculty, the Forum and the Royal Institute therefore drew up a joint statement of intent, in February 1998, setting out their determination to develop a multidisciplinary body of trained and competent public health professionals.

This initiative attracted broad support, including that of former Chief Medical Officer for England, Sir Kenneth Calman, who agreed to chair the project's Advisory Group. The group was composed of representatives from a broad range of disciplines including environmental health, nursing, medicine and health promotion and organisations including the Health Development Agency, the NHS Executive, the Department of Health and other government departments and also relevant personnel from all four UK nations.

In October 1998, a feasibility study was undertaken, to assess the case for national standards for specialist practice in public health. The report of this study concluded that there was a demand from employers and employees for standards, that would define the core of specialist practice and inform the development of appropriate skills; there was also a strong demand for national standards to support the accreditation of individual practitioners.

The project was supported by the Chief Medical Officer, Sir Liam Donaldson and was strengthened by a Government announcement in 1999 that a new post of specialist in public health was to be created (Saving Lives: Our Healthier Nation 11.25).

Following on from this, Healthwork UK, the National Training Organisation for Health, was commissioned to develop the national standards. The project was funded by the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority, on behalf of all four 1997 Education Act Regulatory Authorities and the Departments of Health of all four UK nations. The initial phase consisted of an exercise to map the public health function and to make preliminary proposals on the implications for competencies and national standards. Following an extensive consultation, the standards were refined and they are now approved and finalised and in use in senior appointments.

They cover the areas of:

The full detailed standards are available on this web site.

Once the standards were established, the Tripartite Group began to work on the development of a register for public health specialists, who could meet the standards. It was intended that this would be voluntary in the first instance, and that it could entail dual registration for those working in professions already governed by statutory registration. A consultation exercise on the setting up of a register was undertaken, with positive results. Out of 828 responses, 639 said that they would wish to join a voluntary register of public health specialists.

In November 2001, Lord Hunt, Minister of Health, indicated strong Government support for the development of standards for specialists, and for practitioners and for the establishment of a register.

Early in 2003, the Departments of Health for all four UK countries undertook to support the development of a register for public health specialists. Their primary purpose in doing so was to provide public protection by ensuring that only competent public health specialists would be registered and that high standards of practice would be maintained. In March 2003, Public Health Minister for England, Hazel Blears, announced at the Annual Public Health Forum in Cardiff, that the register was about to be launched and that this venture had strong Government backing.

On 27 May 2003, Professor Jim McEwen chaired the inaugural meeting of the Joint Board, which is multidisciplinary and independent. The Board's first task was to appoint and train the multidisciplinary assessment teams. The first phase is now completed with three teams fully trained.

The Joint Board are meeting on a regular basis and the Tripartite Group are working on the part of the Register which will be for "defined specialists". This work is ongoing.

The first applications have now been approved, including one by portfolio assessment, and Directors of Public Health who have applied for provisional registration.

To ask for an application pack, please email

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