An ‘unbalanced’ health merger, which placed the management of all six Berkshire councils’ health strategy under one director, is set to be scrapped and split in two.

In 2013, one director of public health was put in charge of healthcare at Reading Borough Council (RBC), Wokingham Borough Council (Wokingham), West Berkshire Council (West Berks), Bracknell Forest Council (BFC), Slough Borough Council (SBC) and the Royal Borough of Windsor & Maidenhead (RBWM).

The Berkshire public health system is overseen by the chief executives at the six councils, who have become increasingly concerned about the ability of the public health setup to achieve its target to:

  • Improve health
  • Prevent illness
  • Decrease demand for health and social care service

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They say the system has become unbalanced and it has been difficult to recruit for public health leadership roles.

The director post has been “particularly stretched”, covering six local authorities, two Clinical Commissioning Groups and two Integrated Care Systems.

A review of the current arrangements was requested by chief executives at the six councils and has recommended splitting the sharing arrangements in two, with one system for RBC, West Berks and Wokingham, and another for BFC, SBC and RBWM.

Jason Brock, leader of RBC, said: “We now we have a more integrated structure across [Reading, Wokingham and West Berks] so it makes sense to bring the public health director a bit closer to people within the area.”

The public health system has been hosted by Bracknell since 2013, but the new Berkshire West system will be based in Reading.

Covid-19 halted the progress in shifting to a new model but the increasing responsibility at a local level as a result of the pandemic and the current director of public health’s plans move on in the New Year have increased the urgency.

Berkshire is the only public health system in the country with six upper tier authorities sharing one Director of Public Health.

Thirty of the 152 local authorities in England have shared arrangements, with the majority between two local authorities and one between three.

Many councils across the country have dissolved joint roles in recent years.

The change could cost around £75,000-£100,000 per year to each of the three Berkshire West councils.

For transport reasons, the Berkshire West health hub and director of public health would both be based at RBC.

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The director would have a seat at the ‘top table’ at each council, with access to the chief executive and lead Member for Health.

RBC’s Adult Social Care, Children’s Service and Education committee will discuss the proposed changes on Thursday (October 22).