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Richmond and Wandsworth Councils: Using the Standards for employers of public health teams in England to inform a workforce development project

Richmond and Wandsworth Councils have an agreement to share the workforce and staffing structure across the two boroughs. Over the last two years, the councils have reviewed the capacity of their public health workforce to understand its strengths and weaknesses in terms of the required skills and knowledge.

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The review highlighted certain areas where public health skills and knowledge, as well as Continuing Professional Development (CPD) provision, could be improved. As a result, the councils initiated a Public Health Workforce Development Project to understand the team’s skills and knowledge better and identify any gaps that need to be addressed. The project also set out to understand the needs of the public health workforce in terms of professional development and put a more structured approach to supporting staff to pursue CPD in place. The Standards for employers of public health teams in England were used to help inform this work.

Highlights of progress

The project started with a research exercise to gather data on skills and knowledge within the public health team, as well as staff views on the CPD support available to them and their needs in this respect. All staff within the public health team were sent questionnaires and some also took part in focus groups to help map out the skills they had, their CPD needs, and thoughts on the support they would need to develop within the public health field.

The team was then able to carry out a full audit using the evidence gathered through the research with staff. The audit assessed the extent to which the public health workforce was supported in terms of their professional development. It also highlighted particular gaps in terms of skills, knowledge and CPD support and helped identify actions to address them.

For example, the team discovered that individual staff members had skills they were not using in their role, but which they could usefully deploy elsewhere within the team. They also realised that not everyone within the team knew about a full range of CPD opportunities and routes. The team then used the findings to develop a more structured approach to supporting their staff to pursue CPD. To address this need, the team recommended a series of actions, for example: developing a working group for training and development; supporting interested staff to become public health practitioners through portfolio; and presenting different opportunities for development to other staff who were less interested in professional registration.

Throughout this project, the team used the Standards for employers of public health teams in England to help inform and guide their work. The Standards provided a structured framework that informed the research exercise in terms of the areas and questions that were explored. The Standards were further used as a benchmark to test and check their approach and frame the objectives of their workforce development work. The Audit Checklist accompanying the Standards was also used to help carry out the audit, which the team found very helpful as a bridge between identifying their workforce development needs and actions to address them. In addition to the Standards, the team also used the Public Health Skills and Knowledge framework to assess the skills levels and gaps within public health workforce.

Future plans

Richmond and Wandsworth public health team are in the process of finalising their workforce development action plan. The team will then implement the plan with the support of the councils to ensure public health staff have appropriate time and guidance for CPD and the team as a whole has adequate knowledge and skills.

Some of the findings of the Audit may also feed into the future Richmond and Wandsworth workforce strategy, which will benefit from this detailed assessment of the capacity and skills of the current public health workforce and any gaps that may need to be addressed.

Lessons and key messages

The public health team at Richmond and Wandsworth found the Standards a useful tool to communicate the specific needs of public health workforce within a local authority context. The Standards helped them articulate those needs both internally, within the team, and externally, to the senior management, HR, Learning and Development colleagues and other directorates.

The team also appreciated the evidence-based approach supported by the Standards, which enabled them to gain a thorough understanding of their current team’s strengths and weaknesses and build on this to identify appropriate actions.

More broadly, the team stressed the importance of supporting public health staff to grow in their roles and develop in terms of what they can deliver for the organisation. In this context, they appreciated the Standards could help them uphold the requirements for CPD support and an adequately skilled public health workforce.

Finally, they suggested that the Standards could be further improved if the Audit tool was accompanied by additional guidance providing examples for how different sections could be completed. They also stressed the need to promote the Standards more widely and periodically through a range of channels.