£3.2bn a year to reverse public health cuts

The Health Foundation has claimed that an additional £3.2 billion a year is required to reverse the impact of government cuts to the public health grant and ensure that it is re-allocated according to need.

The grant, which enables local authorities to deliver vital public health services, has seen a £700 million real terms reduction in funding between 2014/15 and 2019/20 – a fall of 23.5 per cent per person.

The Health Foundation’s new briefing paper, Taking our health for granted: Plugging the public health grant funding gap, highlights that the cuts have not protected areas with the greatest deprivation or need – an approach which risks increasing health inequalities at a time when the government has pledged to tackle such injustices.

Therefore, additional money is now needed to reallocate the grant to better meet public need while restoring damaging real terms losses. The Foundation suggests that funding should be increased and locally distributed according to an independent calculation by the Advisory Committee on Resource Allocation (ACRA) to account for local need and prevent any local area experiencing a reduction. It recommends that, at a minimum, the government should reverse the real terms cuts and allow additional investment in the most deprived areas by providing an additional £1.3 billion in 2019/20.

Jo Bibby, director of Health at the Health Foundation, said: “While the Secretary of State has rightly identified prevention as one of his three key priorities, the sustained cuts to the public health grant clearly run counter to this. At a time of ongoing wider cuts to public services that directly impact on people’s health, and with the NHS under intense pressure, the cuts to the public health grant are short sighted and irresponsible. The long term consequences of eroding people’s health are likely to prove far more costly than the short term savings made.

“Five years since the NHS Five Year Forward View called for a radical upgrade in prevention, and with austerity said to be at an end, it is clear that if the government is serious about protecting and improving health, this rhetoric needs to translate into action. That should start by addressing the lack of investment in the public health grant in the forthcoming budget and following spending review.”

Ian Hudspeth, chairman of the Local Government Association’s Community Wellbeing Board, said: “Despite budget reductions, councils are determined to maintain vital public health services to help people live longer, healthier and happier lives, but the reality is that many local authorities are having to make difficult decisions on these key services, including stopping them altogether.

“Early intervention and prevention work by councils to tackle teenage pregnancy, child obesity, physical inactivity, sexually transmitted infections and substance misuse, is vital to improve the public’s health. Not only does it reduce the risk of people having their lives shortened by conditions such as heart and liver disease, cancer, and Type 2 diabetes, but it also keeps the pressure off the NHS and adult social care. We urge government to reverse reductions to councils’ public health budgets and give local authorities more funding to further this cost-effective work. Any extra funding for the NHS should also include public health funding for councils as the two are so intrinsically linked.”

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