Councils to keep public health remit, government confirms

Author: Caroline White
Councils to keep public health remit, government confirms

Councils are to retain their public health remit, the government has confirmed. This is despite the £700 million reduction in central government funding for public health over the past four years.

The Long Term Plan (LTP) had asked for the delivery of public health to be reviewed and consideration to be given to bolstering the role of the NHS in commissioning services, such as sexual health, health visitors, and school nurses.

Responsibility for these services were transferred from the NHS to local government in 2013.

In a blog posted in January this year, after the Long Term Plan was published, Public Health England (PHE) chief executive, Duncan Selbie wrote: “The rationale for local government to lead on public health remains unchanged, but this joint review between the NHS and local government will ensure that we have the best possible join-up between them, with no predetermined outcome.”

Speaking at a meeting of the Local Government Association councillors’ forum yesterday, Mr Hancock reportedly said the evidence for maintaining current council responsibilities for public health was “compelling”.

In response, Cllr Ian Hudspeth, chairman of the LGA’s Community Wellbeing Board, said: "We are delighted that the Secretary of State has accepted the LGA’s powerful case for councils to keep their vital role and valued responsibilities for providing public health services, rather than transferring them back to the NHS.

“Councils have worked hard to provide and commission these services, including sexual health clinics, drug and alcohol treatment services and health visitors, despite facing reductions of £700 million to their public health grant between 2015/16 and 2019/20.”

He added that commissioning sexual, reproductive, and HIV services was complex. “The only way forward is through a whole system approach where together we commission services in a more collaborative way.”

"Demand for sexual health services continues to grow and, particularly with the ongoing financial pressures facing local authorities, it is essential that the public health system works together to the deliver the best value for the population and ensure we have a strong service with ease of access and joined up support.”

Local councils had brought a new energy and vigour to the commissioning of sexual health services, he insisted, “often transforming who delivers them, where and how, helping to deliver good results despite rising demand and cuts to their public health budgets.”

In a statement issued yesterday, Duncan Selbie said: “This review recognises that Local Government are best placed to lead on commissioning local public health services and the invaluable skill and expertise they bring to this.

“The best services are always those commissioned collaboratively with the NHS and this review emphasises the importance of this for every part of England, as does the NHS Long Term Plan, including making the best use of shared resources.”