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Public health on-call in Scotland: how much experience is sufficient?
  1. G McCartney1,
  2. J K Dunbar2,
  3. J Morling3,
  4. C Johnman1,
  5. H Gilmour4
  1. 1NHS Health Scotland, Glasgow, UK
  2. 2NHS Tayside, Dundee, UK
  3. 3NHS National Services Scotland, Edinburgh, UK
  4. 4University of Glasgow, Glasgow, UK
  1. Correspondence to Dr Gerry McCartney, NHS Health Scotland, 4th Floor, Elphinstone House, 65 West Regent Street, Glasgow G2 2AF, UK; gmccartney{at}


Objectives To quantify the out-of-hours experience obtained by public health trainees in Scotland and to assess whether this is sufficient to meet the Faculty of Public Health guidelines.

Study design Prospective survey.

Methods All public health trainees in Scotland were invited to participate in a prospective survey of out-of-hours experience. Data were collected from March 2009 to March 2010. The variation in the experience between trainees was compared according to the size, urban/rural mix, and deprivation of the population for which they were responsible. The variation in the experiences gained were then compared to the requirements of the Faculty of Public Health.

Results 18 trainees participated from 6 areas, collecting data on 391 shifts and a total of 276 calls. For every 50 shifts the median number of notifications of probable meningococcus was 3.7 and the median number of chemical incidents and Escherichia coli O157 notifications was 0.0. This variation is difficult to interpret because some trainees collected data for only a short period. The variation between trainees was not significantly related to population size, deprivation or rurality. Pooling the data from all trainees, there was a mean of 2.9 probable meningococcus notifications, 2.4 E coli O157 calls, and 0.3 chemical incident calls per 50 shifts.

Conclusions There is a large and unpredictable degree of variation in the on-call experience of Scottish trainees. The minimum recommended number of on-call shifts may not be adequate to ensure a high proportion of trainees are prepared for unsupervised on-call.

  • public health
  • on-call
  • health protection
  • meningococcus
  • E coli O157
  • training
  • preventive medicine
  • epidemiology
  • hepatobiliary disease
  • education and training (see medical education and training)
  • adult cardiology
  • coronary heart disease
  • coronary intervention
  • HIV and AIDS

Statistics from


  • Competing interests JKD, JM and CJ are all public health trainees and therefore have a financial interest in the length of on-call experience that trainees obtain during their training (as was GM during the initial drafting of the paper).

  • Provenance and peer review Not commissioned; externally peer reviewed.

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