OBJECTIVES: To identify the number and distribution of public health specialists in the UK. STUDY DESIGN: Cross-sectional survey. METHODS: Postal survey of UK members and fellows of the Faculty of Public Health and primary care trust directors of public health in England in October 2003. RESULTS: Of 1993 individuals surveyed, 1566 (78%) responded, of whom 1331 reported working as consultants or specialists in public health in the UK. Of the 1331, 891 (67%) were on the General Medical Council Specialist Register, 53 (4%) were on the General Dental Council Register, and 92 (7%) were in the process of applying for the Voluntary Register; 295 (22%) did not appear to be on any professional register or in the process of applying to the Voluntary Register. This equated to a total UK rate of 14.1 per million 'service' public health. There was substantial variation by region from 9.3 per million population in Wales and the South West to 18.0 per million population in the West Midlands and 19.5 per million population in London. An increase of 218 (21%) additional consultants and specialists in public health across the UK would be required to bring other regions up to the level of the highest region. CONCLUSIONS: This survey, although limited, being based on a survey of members and fellows of the Faculty of Public Health, shows that specialist public health is under capacity, is resourced in a highly variable manner, and needs to be built up to meet the challenges we face. A comprehensive workforce plan for public health is urgently needed
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