Government slammed for public health grant cuts

21 Dec 18

Cutting public health grant will heap pressure on the NHS, councils leaders and a health think-tank have said.

Public health budgets for local authorities will be slashed by £85m in 2019-20, the government announced yesterday.

The total funding package handed down from central government to local government has shrunk from £3.215bn in 2018-19 to £3.134bn in 2019-20.

Funding is used for things like sexual health services, stop smoking campaigns, drug and alcohol treatment.

Ian Hudspeth, the Local Government’s Association, said: “Cutting the public health budget is incredibly short-sighted and will undermine our ability to improve the public’s health and to keep the pressure off the NHS and social care.

He said that the cut “reinforces the view that central government sees prevention services as nice-to-do but ultimately non-essential”.

The umbrella group said that councils’ public health grant funding has been cut by £531m between 2015-16 and 2019-20.

The Health Foundation think-tank estimated there had been a real terms cut of £900m in public health between 2014-15 and 2019-20. The core public health grant has fallen by a quarter per person since 2014-15, it said.

David Finch, senior policy fellow at the Health Foundation, said: “Not only will this further constrain local authorities’ ability to deliver vital public health programmes such as obesity, drug and alcohol, sexual health and children’s services, but further reductions risk undermining the role directors of public health play in influencing wider services that affect people’s health – including housing and transport.

“Increasing spending for the NHS while cutting funding for services that impact health is a false economy.”

Health secretary Matt Hancock has said that prevention will be a key priority in the NHS long-term plan. 

Finch added: “If the government is serious about delivering on its prevention vision, this will have to be matched with adequate funding for the things that maintain and improve people’s health – not just the health care services that treat people when they become unwell.”

The think-tank said an additional £3bn a year is required to reverse the impact of government cuts to the public health grant and ensure that it is re-allocated according to need.

Steve Brine, minister for public health and primary care, said in a ministerial statement yesterday: “We will be spending in excess of £16bn on public health over the five years of the 2015 Spending Review until 2020, in addition to what the NHS spends on preventative interventions such as immunisation and screening.”

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