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BMA: MPs must tackle public health ‘ticking time bomb’

Efforts to improve public health in the UK are being undermined by an “inconsistent approach” to using evidence-based measures, and continued cuts to budgets mean we are now facing a “ticking time bomb”, according doctors’ leaders.

In its manifesto, A Vote for Health, the BMA slammed successive governments for failing to deliver a long-term plan to improve public health. From a watered-down childhood obesity strategy and failure to publish a new tobacco control plan, the union argued politicians have been too “slow and weak” to tackle these challenges.

Commitments to prioritise prevention are not being matched by funding, it argued, since public health only accounts for approximately 5% of health spending. And as previously reported, following an in-year cut of £200m in 2015 of the public health grant, there will be a further cut of £400m in the period up to 2020-21.

Cuts to public health budgets, argued the BMA, have been described as a false economy, undermining a prevention-based approach. It also claims the cuts are impacting on patients accessing vital services, with a quarter of councils reducing spending on sexual health services by 20% from 2013 and nearly 60% cutting smoking cessation budgets last year.

“When it comes to public health, the UK is going backwards,” Dr Mark Porter, BMA council chair, claimed. “Prevention is better than cure and cuts to public health have a damaging impact on individuals’ health and wellbeing, and end up costing the NHS more in the long term.”

He added that there needs to be tighter regulation of the food and soft drinks industry, a minimum unit price on alcohol and support for people to quit smoking.

As part of its manifesto, the union is calling on political parties to work with health professionals to deliver a public health strategy focused on tackling the causes of ill-health over a generation, as well as prioritise measures to tackle the impact of unhealthy food and drink, tobacco and alcohol. This includes a 20% tax on sugar sweetened drinks and the introduction of a minimum unit price for alcohol set at no less than 50p per unit.

“Whoever is in government next must make public health a priority,” stated Dr Porter. “With the NHS at breaking point, and demand on services only set to rise we are facing a ticking time bomb.”

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