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Minister: Public health must be at the top table

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Directors of public health should sit at the “top table” within councils and report directly to chief executives, public health minister Steve Brine has said.

Speaking at the Local Government Association and Association of Directors of Public Health annual public health conference this morning, Mr Brine also said there is no “preconceived outcome’ to the impending review of councils’ commissioning responsibilities for sexual health, health visitors and school nurses, as proposed in the NHS Long Term Plan.

Mr Brine opened his address by saying the implications of the “date with destiny” that is Brexit are “never easy to anticipate or to plan for”.

But he added local government would play a key role in building and maintaining community resilience.

“Local government is very, very good at coping with uncertainty by controlling the things it can control, not over-reaching, being aware of the limits of its power and knowing what more it could do with its powers and resources,” Mr Brine added.

He later insisted the expertise of directors of public health must have a direct influence at the top of senior management within councils, describing the issue as “one of my hobby horses”.

“Directors of public health should sit, as right, on senior management teams within local authorities and report directly to chief executives, he added. “It is not good enough for them to report through somebody else, they are highly trained and professional individuals. They should be sitting directly around the top table.”

Mr Brine acknowledged there had been some unease about the review of some of councils’ public health responsibilities mentioned in the NHS Long Term Plan. But he insisted no decisions had been taken on whether to move the commissioning of some services back to the NHS.

Mr Brine said: “There is no preconceived outcome from this process. We are well aware there have been many benefits in sexual health since the change in legislation but we have to see that in context of the [NHS] Long Term Plan and emerging primary care networks.

“If there is a desire for change will will discuss and consult on that with the LGA first and foremost. This is just us responding to changing circumstances. There will be no change for change’s sake.”

Mr Brine also said he hoped to publish the promised prevention green paper by the summer recess and said the process had been “an open source piece of policy making”.


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