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08.06.16

Mitigating effect of public health cuts may not ‘continue indefinitely’ – Stevens

Efforts to save money for the NHS by preventing health problems are likely to be hit by local government cuts, the chief executive of NHS England told MPs yesterday.

In a Health Select Committee hearing, Simon Stevens said he estimated that investment in public health would save between £0.5 and £1bn in the next five years and more in the longer term.

For example, he said measures to reduce consumption of salt had saved £1.5bn since 2001 and he expected similar results from measures to reduce sugar.

However, he admitted that local authority cuts in areas such as smoking prevention and alcohol reduction were having “an impact on downstream demand”.

He said that although local authorities were extracting value for money from reduced funding, he did not know “whether the squaring of the circle can continue indefinitely”.

The Chartered Institute of Public Finance and Accountancy has predicted that the NHS deficit could be as high as £16bn by 2020 in a worst-case scenario.

Stevens also defended the widely-criticised NHS decision to stop commissioning HIV prevention drug PrEP, saying that if they had decided to commission it, they would be “subject to censure from the National Audit Office and others”.

He said he expected the decision to be resolved “one way or another” within six to eight weeks and that the problems were partly due to the high prices being charged by the drug’s manufacturers.

Yesterday, Jane Ellison MP, parliamentary under-secretary for health, announced that NICE will carry out a review of the effectiveness of Truvada, the drug used in HIV prevention treatment PrEP.

Stevens also appeared in a Public Accounts Committee hearing in the same room the day before, where he admitted that he did not know when the problem of delayed transfers of care, linked to funding cuts in public health and social care, would be resolved.

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