Real terms cuts to local public health work against levelling up and the Government must boost funding after years of underinvestment, say two leading health organisations.
The Health Foundation and the Association of Directors of Public Health (ADPH) made the joint call today after new analysis by the Health Foundation showed the public health grant has fallen by almost a quarter in six years.
It reveals that the public health grant has been cut by 24% in real terms per capita since 2015/16 - equivalent to a reduction of £1bn.The Health Foundation has calculated that additional investment of £1.4bn a year by 2024-25 is now needed to restore the cut to the grant and keep pace with rising demand and costs.
The ADPH has also published an open letter backed by over 50 charities and representative bodies which cites the analysis and calls for urgent action on public health funding.
Director of health at the Health Foundation Jo Bibby said that even before the pandemic, a girl born in one of the poorest areas could expect to live nearly 20 fewer years in good health than a girl born in the one of the wealthiest - ‘and COVID-19 is likely to have only further widened this gulf’.
She added: ‘The health and social care secretary has promised to finally address this injustice and has rightly acknowledged that levelling up health is fundamental to levelling up economically - a healthy and productive population will be essential to the country’s future prosperity.’
Ms Bibby said the Spending Review ‘presents an opportunity for the Government to finally put an end to the short-sightedness of underinvesting in services which keep people healthy and prevent them from becoming ill in the first place’.
Jim McManus, Interim President, Association of Directors of Public Health said: ‘Over recent years the public health grant has been cut, cut and cut again, undermining the leadership and services that are essential to improving health and reducing inequalities. Investing in local public health is critical to levelling up, preparing for the future threats and building a more prevention-focussed health and care system. The costs of not doing so are clear - health and wellbeing will worsen further, health inequalities will grow and too much potential in our society and economy will remain untapped.’
Cllr David Fothergill, chair of the Local Government Association’s Community Wellbeing Board, said: ‘If we are to truly level up, we must focus on reducing poor health outcomes as well as economic imbalances between regions, supported by the right resources. Investment now will reap benefits for everyone longer-term, including for the NHS, criminal justice and other public services.
‘Councils are doing all they can to help keep people healthy throughout their lives and reduce pressure on the NHS and social care.
‘The upcoming Spending Review is an opportunity to realise this shared ambition with government, to level up the future health chances of our communities and build back better from the pandemic.’