Female nurse in mask providing care in the community

Government urged to tackle public health investment shortfall

The Public Health Medicine Committee Chair of the British Medical Association (BMA), Dr Peter English, has called on government to acknowledge the importance of public health, as seen during the coronavirus pandemic, and respond accordingly by directly tackling the shortfall in investment.

Highlighting the key role of public health as one of the primary lessons learned from Covid-19, Dr English urged a significant effort be made to reverse a decade of underfunding.

Speaking at the BMA’s annual representative meeting (ARM), he said: “The pandemic has shown that public health is a vital part of the NHS.

“We need to be clear about how public health services should develop – the pandemic has demonstrated that public health is a vital part of the NHS.

“Health protection and the ability to respond to threats can be very high profile but the day-to-day responses to things like influenza are also important.

“And public health is also about influencing the wider determinants of health which have a massive impact – it is about levelling up health inequalities, and inequalities which are being worsened enormously by the pandemic.

“It is vital all these elements of public health are supported at national and local levels.”

Public health in England currently sits in a moderately unclear position, with the Government having last month opted to replace Public Health England. Critical of some of its capabilities during the coronavirus pandemic, Health Secretary Matt Hancock announced the creation of a new National Institute for Health Protection (NIHP), which would combine parts of PHE with the NHS Test and Trace system.

It’s a move which has proven highly controversial, particularly with communication around the changes proving inconsistent in reaching public health staff ahead of the public announcement. The proposed changes have also been criticised for appearing to not contain much detail about the future of large parts of the current public health services and provisions beyond the areas immediately involved in pandemic response.

Backing Dr English’s calls for government investment into public health, BMA Council Chair Dr Chaand Nagpaul added: “We need a properly funded public health service – this has been diminished over a decade to a grossly under-resourced service. We need to correct that and invest in the public’s health.”

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