Shift to preventive healthcare ‘requires growth in public health grant’

5 Nov 18

Local government has a “vital” role to play as the government pivots towards preventive healthcare – but cuts to public health budgets need to be reversed.

That was the view of health groups as they responded to a government policy paper that argued that prevention would form an “integral” part of the forthcoming long-term plan for the NHS.

In the paper – ‘Prevention is better than cure’ – health and social care secretary Matt Hancock announced the government would put “greater focus” on prevention but acknowledged this wasn’t a job for the health and care sectors alone.

“Right across government, I want us to be working with all those who have a role in influencing health: communities, employers, industry, local government, housing, schools and charities,” he said.

Jo Bibby, director of health at the Health Foundation think-tank, said Hancock was right to identify local authorities as playing a vital role in health improvement.

“Their ability to deliver on this role, however, has been jeopardised by cuts to local services and investments over the past decade of austerity.”

The Health Foundation estimates there has been a £700m real-terms public health grant cut since 2014-15.

Unveiling the policy paper at the annual meeting of the International Association of National Public Health Institutes on 5 November, Hancock said: “In the UK, we are spending £97bn of public money on treating disease and only £8bn preventing it. You don’t have to be an economist to see those numbers don’t stack up.”

Hancock also announced plans for a dedicated prevention green paper, which would be published in 2019.

Helen Donovan, professional lead for public health at the Royal College of Nursing, said: “Matt Hancock must realise his plans will start at a disadvantage as local authorities struggle with planned cuts to public health budgets of almost 4% per year until 2021.”Disadvantaged areas emerge worse off without these vital services, with life expectancy and the poorest bearing the brunt of underinvestment in public health.”

Chris Hopson, chief executive of NHS Providers, also agreed that local government’s role was vital.

“This announcement represents an opportunity to address and reverse the damage that cuts to both health and local government budgets have caused to prevention services,” he said.

“We have to back this commitment with real action and properly fund and staff these important services,” he urged.

Niall Dickson, chief executive of the NHS Confederation, said: “The recent record of cutting public health spending must now be reversed.

“Local government was given responsibility for public health in 2012 and since then has seen swingeing cuts in their budgets, including cuts to the specific public health grant they receive.”

The Health Foundation recently argued that local authority public health services in England needed an extra £3.2bn a year.

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