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Plans to cut public health budgets by £85m this year ‘self-defeating’

Public health services such as sexual health clinics and services reducing harm from smoking, alcohol and drugs are to be cut by £85m this year by local authorities, despite having their budgets severely reduced in recent times, new research has found.

In findings released by health think-tank the King’s Fund today which analysed Department of Communities and Local Government data, it was revealed that councils in England were planning to spend £3.4bn on public health services in 2017-18.

However, on a like-for-like basis excluding the impact of changes to how budgets are calculated over different years, councils will only spend £2.52bn on public health in 2017-18 compared to £2.60bn last year.

Once inflation is factored in, the King’s Fund experts also discovered that public health spending is more than 5% less in 2017-18 than it was four years ago, in 2013-14.

In addition, researchers also found that though spending was set to increase in some areas such as promoting physical activity and on children’s services, the majority of essential public health funding had been cut considerably.

Sexual health services have seen funding reduce by £30m from last year, amounting to a 5% reduction, whilst spending on tackling drug misuse has gone down by £22m, and stop smoking services have had a 15% cut, worth £16m.

Researchers suggest that central government cuts are to blame for the drop in spending for public health, which looks set to be reduced by at least £600m by 2020-21 on top of £200m already cut from the 2015-16 budget.

“These planned cuts in services are the result of central government funding cuts that are increasingly forcing councils to make difficult choices about which services they fund,” said David Buck, Senior Fellow in Public Health and Inequalities at The King’s Fund.

“Reducing spending on public health is short-sighted at the best of times,” he added. “But at a time when the rate of syphilis is at its highest level for 70 years, to cut spending on sexual health services is the falsest of false economies and is storing up problems for the future.

“The government must reverse these cuts and ensure councils get adequate resources to fund vital public health services.”

Public health budget cuts ‘self-defeating’

Niall Dickson, chief executive of NHS Confederation, also said that it was “self-defeating” to reduce public health spending while looking to transform care for patients.

“The government’s whole approach to reforming health care has been based on the promise of a radical upgrade in prevention and public health, yet all we have seen is cut after cut in this budget,” he said.

“Our members report direct cuts to frontline services, including the treatment of substance misuse, smoking cessation and sexual health. Further gaps in out-of-hospital and social care funding intensifies the pressures on health services.”

And the president of the Royal College of Physicians (RCP), Professor Jane Dacre, commented that the report made for “worrying reading”.

“In the last few months the RCP has raised severe concerns regarding the reductions to the public health grant to local authorities,” she stated. “Such changes could mean serious and lasting implications for both the health of communities across England and the long-term sustainability of the NHS.”

Head of nursing at the Royal College of Nursing (RCN) Wendy Preston added that clinics led by nurses are extremely successful at promoting sexual health, helping people to give up smoking or overcome drink and drug abuse – cutting them back is a false economy.

“The evidence shows that investment in prevention and intervention services works for patients and gives better value to taxpayers - the removal of them piles pressure onto expensive acute and community services,” Preston concluded. “Ministers must accept they are storing up problems for the future unless they give health and care services the funding they need.”

Top Image: Chris Radburn PA Wire

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