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Directors of public health ‘may need to take on additional portfolios’

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Directors of public health may ultimately have to take on extra portfolios as part of their move to councils, one sector leader has warned.

Sandie Keene, director of adult social care services at Leeds City Council, said that if the Department of Health was serious about directors of public health (DsPH) having equal status with other top council directors, a rebalancing of responsibilities may be required.

Speaking after last month’s government update on public health reform, Ms Keene, who is a public health lead for the Association of Directors of Adult Social Services, said DsPH should report directly to chief executives, but that they might have to take on more responsibilities in return.

“We might have to look at directors of public health taking on different portfolios of local authority work - perhaps housing,” she said.

“It could be the case that we see a different skill mix for directors of public health. Over the next three, five, or 10 years I think there will be quite a development of their range of skills,” she added.

Ms Keene said that the size and remits of departments would need to be ironed out because in large authorities directors of children’s or adults’ services might be responsible for thousands of staff, while a director of public health might be responsible for 30.

She said small unitaries with streamlined senior management teams might face the hardest challenges in accommodating DsPH and added that sharing directors of public health could be “one option that local authorities might want to think about”.

The government’s clarification over the role and status of DsPH has been widely regarded as an attempt to pacify health professionals fearful of losing influence as part of the NHS reforms. Many fear being made to answer to directors of adult social services.

Frank Atherton, president of the Association of Directors of Public Health, said in principle he had no opposition to directors including other portfolios in their brief.

“Some public health directors will be better equipped to take on additional roles than others,” he said.

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