Workforce, training and education
East Midlands

Quality in Public Health Practice

Public Health Practitioners

Who are Public Health Practitioners?

Public health practitioners are those people in the public health workforce who spend much or all of their time in public health practice.

The public health practitioner workforce covers a wide cross section of public health specialties in a wide range of settings, such as local authorities, the NHS, the voluntary sector and the private sector. They work across the full breadth of public health activity from health promotion and health intelligence, to health protection, sustainable development, pharmacy, and nutrition. They are likely to work in multi-professional teams and include people that work with groups and communities as well as with individuals, for instance, Smoking Cessation Advisors. Some people in this group may be involved in project delivery.  At a more senior level, they will be providing management and leadership across different organisations.

A well-trained and regulated workforce is vital to the improvement of UK public health and the reduction of health inequalities. 

The Public Health Skills and Knowledge Framework

The Public Health Skills and Career framework (PHSCF) describes nine levels for the public health workforce. The framework which was published in April 2008, and revised in the winter of 2012-2013 under the new title of the Public Health Skills and Knowledge Framework, provides a tool for identifying the skills and knowledge required across all groups, domains and levels of the public health workforce.

The Framework has been developed for use across the UK. For the first time, it brings together the following in a user-friendly format:

  • public health competences
  • underpinning knowledge

The framework is for:

  • Those already working in any field of public health now
  • Those wishing to enter the field of public health
  • Those involved in commissioning, organisation and delivery of public health training
  • Those involved in workforce planning
  • Employers of the public health workforce

The framework is forming the basis of further work by public health organisations working collaboratively with professional groups to inform:

Further information can be found on the Faculty of Public Health Website in the section within Professional Standards Practitioner Development.

UK Public Health Register

The UK Public Health Register (UKPHR) opened in May 2003 with the aim of promoting public confidence in specialist public health practice in the UK through independent regulation. It provides public protection by ensuring that only competent public health professionals are registered and that high standards of practice are maintained.

The register is administered by:  The UK Public Health Register, Suite 18C, McLaren Building, 46 Priory Queensway, Birmingham, B4 7LR.

Generalist and Defined Specialist Registration

There are two categories of public health specialist registration, defined and generalist. The UKPHR views them as equivalent. 

Defined specialist registration serves employers who need specialists with a higher level of expertise in particular areas of public health, such as health protection, health improvement or public health information, amongst others.  Defined specialists work at the same very senior level as general specialists.

The UKPHR requires that generalists and defined registrants have exactly the same knowledge base.  Generalists and defined specialist also are required to have the same skills across all the core areas of public health (surveillance and assessment of the population’s health and well-being; assessing the evidence of effectiveness of health and healthcare programmes and services; policy and strategy development and implementation; and leadership and collaborative working for health).

In addition, defined registrants must demonstrate high level skills (at a higher level than general specialists) in specific areas of public health.  In these areas, the depth of expertise required for defined registration balances the breadth of general registration.

There are various routes to specialist registration with the UKPHR, which are summarised here.

Practitioner Registration

In April 2011, the UK Public Health Register opened for practitioners. At present, individuals cannot apply directly to the UKPHR to register, they can only apply to register as a public health practitioner through a local assessment and verification scheme. For the schemes that are currently available in the UK, click here.