The reorganisation of public health has been labelled an ‘omnishambles’ by doctors leaders, as problems with recruitment to its flagship national organisation continue to emerge.
PHE (Public Health England) is due to begin working in shadow form in early January, before taking on full statutory responsibilities in April.
But the BMA has repeatedly heard that those working in public health remain unsure of the posts into which they will go, and doubts have been cast over assurances that there are more jobs than people transferring.
Terms and conditions for the 5,000 staff moving to PHE were finally released by PHE chief executive Duncan Selbie last week in the PHE People Transition Policy Module 2, after months of delays.
Public health doctors will retain their existing NHS terms and conditions, which the BMA public health medicine committee has been working hard to achieve. They will also be able to remain on the NHS pension scheme until at least 2015.
In addition, there are signs that the PHE business code currently in development will acknowledge the need for public health doctors to advocate on behalf of their population — another key issue for the BMA.
Lack of central control
Yet PHMC co-chair Mark Temple maintained there remained a lack of central control over the reorganisation, and there was ‘no hand on the tiller’.
He said: ‘The word “omnishambles” comes to mind. The ministers have been remarkable in their absolute lack of control. There is no evidence of ministerial involvement or interest.’
A consultant in public health who works in a strategic health authority and asked not to be named was told last month that she would be undergoing a competitive job-matching process.
She said: ‘When the national message from Duncan Selbie is that there are more jobs than people, it strikes me that it is very odd that they are making us go through competitive job matching. The rhetoric isn’t matching the reality.’
BMA industrial relations officer Ian McKivett said public health staff were finding it difficult to square the lack of good job opportunities with the assurances and promises they had been given.
He insisted: ‘Right the way along, PHE has said there were more jobs than people but the reality of this has been slightly more disappointing. There seems to be a lack of leadership, direction and purpose in these processes and they seem to be making it up as they go along.’
He added: ‘The reality is that people on the ground are not being offered jobs that are comparable, some are not being offered any jobs, and some are having to compete with colleagues.’
A Department of Health spokesperson said: ‘Staff are transferring to PHE from [more than] 70 different organisations.
‘The majority of staff will be directly transferred and matched to roles without any need for a competitive process.
‘However, there are some areas where functions will need to be delivered differently and new services are being developed. In this case it is right that a selection process should take place to ensure the most suitable staff are appointed to these posts.
‘Staff not selected at this stage will be given priority to be redeployed into suitable alternative roles within PHE.’