William Eichler 01 September 2016

Public health cuts ‘false economy’, MPs says

Cuts to public health and front line services are a ‘false economy’ and risk ‘widening health inequalities’, a select committee has warned.

A committee report released today into public health found there is a ‘growing mismatch’ between spending on public health and the emphasis on prevention contained in the NHS 5 Year Forward View.

Local authorities took on the responsibility for public health in 2013 and two years later faced an in-year cut of £200m, the report said. It warned they now face further real terms cuts to public health budgets.

The health committee said if the Government is determined to tackle health inequalities - what Theresa May described as a 'burning injustice’ - it had to focus on prevention and not just treatment.

‘We are pleased that the Health Committee backs our warning that the cuts to councils' public health budgets are a false economy, and threaten to undermine the real progress local government has made in improving health and wellbeing, and tackling inequalities in their communities,’ said Cllr Izzi Seccombe, the Local Government Association’s (LGA) portfolio holder for community wellbeing.

‘We have long argued that prevention is key if we are to keep the pressure off the NHS and adult social care, and improve people's health and wellbeing.’

‘Local authorities were eager to pick up the mantle of public health in 2013, however many now feel that they have been handed all of the responsibility but without the appropriate resources to do so,’ Cllr Seccombe added.

The report recommends Whitehall enshrine health as a ‘material consideration in planning and licensing law’. This would, it argued, provide councils with the ‘levers’ to tackle health inequalities at the local level.

The committee complemented some local authorities on the progress they had made in public health outcomes, but it warned ‘robust systems’ to address unacceptable variation between areas were not yet in place.

It argued to protect areas with high deprivation and poor health outcomes, changes to local government funding, especially the removal of ring-fencing of the public health grant, must be carefully managed.

The committee also heard in some local areas there is ‘confusion, duplication and lack of clarity’ over the responsibilities of local authorities where health protection is concerned.

In response to the committee’s findings, Cllr Neil Clarke, chairman of the District Councils’ Network (DCN) said: ‘The DCN welcomes the Commons Health Committee’s highlighting the crucial role that planning and licensing, which are central responsibilities of districts councils, play in ensuring better public health outcomes.

‘In its response we hope the Government will recognise the central role of districts councils in public health, including through the planning system, while ensuring that delays are avoided within the wider planning system process going forward.’

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