The Value of Public Health Practitioner Registration

The UK Public Health Register (UKPHR) is well known, alongside the General Medical Council, as a regulator of Directors of Public Health and Public Health Specialists, a role we have carried out since 2003. Public health leaders can register with us either through completion of the Specialty Training Programme or through retrospective portfolio assessment. Our standards for this assessment (also reflected in the Training Programme curriculum) give employers and the public assurance that public health specialists who achieve registration have the core skills needed for strategic leadership of the public health workforce and the public health system.

In 2011, we extended registration to include the remainder of the core public health workforce who work in public health practice in roles as diverse as management, commissioning and direct delivery of public health interventions. The standards for practitioner registration were written and endorsed by national lead agencies in public health across the UK, including RSPH, the Faculty of Public Health and all the four UK Departments of Health.

The practitioner standards represent the minimum level of competence required to work autonomously in public health across the UK. They are applicable to all workplaces and settings where public health interventions are delivered, transcending the boundaries of any single employer, training provider or educational institution. Registration provides public health workers with the credentials to move around the UK’s public health system.

All workers involved in autonomous public health practice in any organisation (voluntary sector, private sector, freelance or consultancy or public sector) should be able to demonstrate their competence against the practitioner standards. This means that registration offers a quality benchmark for public health contracts and specifications for service agreements.

The UKPHR practitioner standards form the foundation for the quality assurance of public health workers’ competence. We maintain that assurance following registration through annual renewal and mandatory CPD (Continuing Professional Development). The emphasis is kept on maintaining and updating skills and knowledge and improvement of practice.

Our nationally recognised and accredited register is available on our website and accessible to all. Employers, service commissioners, service users and members of the public can check whether or not someone is registered.

Registered practitioners have had their knowledge, understanding and application of their knowledge and understanding of every practitioner standard independently assessed by a nationally trained and approved assessor. Every portfolio assessment is checked and verified by a senior public health professional.

A highly devolved system of local assessment schemes delivers recruitment onto registration cohorts and development of applicants’ skills and knowledge, during the development of their portfolio. The portfolio must show evidence of reflective practice and many practitioners have found the process assists their professional development. Local schemes exist across the UK although coverage is not yet universal.

Registration fulfils a role, otherwise missing, in recognising the competence of the core public health workforce. There is no entry qualification at graduate level, encompassing theory and practice, into a public health career commensurate with those in, for example, environmental health, nursing or Allied Health Professions. There is a shortage of ‘trainee’ positions, made available by employers, at intermediate and/or graduate levels within the public health system for workers to establish a solid grounding across all of the public health disciplines.

Registration assures potential employers and strategic public health leaders of practitioners’ competence at this level of practice and is clear evidence of their commitment to a career in public health practice. It offers practitioners a platform from which to assert their professional competence and credibility.

Practitioners are the largest body of public health workers in the UK workforce and they are engaged across the whole spectrum of employing organisations. They are in prime position to galvanise, lead and inform the wider workforce, so the breadth and depth of their public health knowledge, skill and expertise are essential attributes. Practitioner registration is the only mechanism currently available to provide assurance that this knowledge, skill and expertise is held.

As part of a national register, the public health practitioner will receive regular updates and bulletins on key issues and events affecting the UK public health workforce. They will also be eligible for:

  • Fellowship of RSPH, which provides discounted training and development opportunities, access to rooms in central London and high standard peer reviewed journals;
  • Practitioner membership of the Faculty of Public Health, with similar benefits including access to a national CPD recording system;
  • Recognition as an Advanced Practitioner in Public Health under a pilot recognition scheme;
  • Funding for Tutorials and entry for the Part A exams potentially leading to entry onto the Specialty Training Programme (currently being piloted in Wessex and in West Midlands).
By Cerilan Rogers, UKPHR Lead Moderator