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Government must restore £1bn cuts to public health

Think tanks call for U-turn on public health spending cuts

Adrian O'Dowd

Wednesday, 12 June 2019

Two leading health think tanks are calling on the government to restore £1bn of real-terms per head cuts to the public health grant.

This funding allows local authorities to deliver vital preventative services that protect and improve health, but cuts have been hampering their ability do so, argued the Health Foundation and The King’s Fund.


The two charities said that with the government’s spending review – expected to outline long-term funding for the public health grant – likely to be delayed, the government could not continue to delay decisions on public health funding and should signal its intention to restore cuts and ensure there were no further reductions in funding.

Cuts to the public health grant made since 2015-16 were having a significant impact on local services – such as sexual health clinics, stop smoking support and children’s health visitors – which played a key role in improving and maintaining the population’s health, said the two organisations.

Analysis by the Health Foundation shows that the grant, which currently amounts to £3.1bn a year, is now £850m lower in real-terms than initial allocations in 2015-16.

With the government’s spending review likely to be delayed, key funding decisions will be postponed and as a result, the grant would face a further real-terms cut of £50m in 2020-21 under provisional plans – totalling a 25% cut on a real-term per head basis since 2015-16, they said.

With population growth factored in, £1bn would be needed to restore funding to 2015-16 levels.

Cuts to the grant were also undermining the ability of directors of Public Health to influence wider public services that affected people’s health, such as housing and transport.

Ideally, in addition to a commitment to restoring what will amount to £1bn in cuts by 2020-21, the grant should also be placed on a long-term sustainable footing for the future, said the think tanks, with the extra money used by local authorities to help avert the onset of disease and reduce health inequalities.

David Finch, senior fellow at the Health Foundation, said: “There has been a commitment by the government to preventing ill health and tackling health inequalities. The sustained cuts to the public health grant clearly run counter to these aims.

“Without urgent reinvestment, we will continue to see a direct impact on people’s long-term health as well as increasing pressure on wider public services including the NHS, which are already under considerable strain.”

Siva Anandaciva, chief analyst at The King’s Fund, said: “The continued cuts to public health funding are short-sighted and at odds with the government stated mantra that ‘prevention is better than cure’.

“Whilst local authorities have tried to make-do by introducing efficiencies like offering online services, the budget squeeze is now taking its toll, with latest figures showing rising incidence of some sexually transmitted infections such as syphilis.”

The British Medical Association (BMA) gave its backing to the charities’ call and its public health medicine committee chair Dr Peter English said: “The BMA supports calls for investment in public health funding as we have previously warned of the need for an urgent reversal of cuts to public health budgets to address the health needs of the local population.

“The negative impact of cuts to public health funding in many cases across the country has led to a reduction in services with limited access or worsening quality of care.”

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