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90% of councils slashing smoking, sexual health, weight management services

Exclusive Nine out of ten councils have cut spending on sexual health, alcohol misuse and weight management services, a major Pulse investigation has revealed.

The investigation – which involved collecting full data from 80 local authorities through FOI requests – found that some areas are scrapping services altogether, with GPs warning that it will affect patient health.

In total, around nine in 10 councils have cut their public health budgets for 2018/19, after brutal cuts from central government.

The services cut by local authorities include:

In total, sexual health funding has been cut by 2% this year, and substance misuse by 3%. Smoking cessation funding stayed at the same level as 2017/18 – but this was following a 2.4% cut from the previous year.

The Treasury cut the public health grant for England by almost 10% (£531m) from 2015/16 to 2019/20. However, they have repeatedly said that frontline services will not be cut.

Local authorities contacted by Pulse said they were working hard to commission more effective services that the public actually wanted but that they were having to work with reduced funding.

GPs say that they are seeing the effects of the cuts already. Around half of the 620 GPs in England who responded to a Pulse survey say their practices are directly feeling the impact of the cuts.

Lincolnshire LMC medical director Dr Kieran Sharrock said they have lost vital obesity services locally.

‘It makes conversations between GPs and patients very difficult, “You say that I need to lose weight, but the only help you can give me is advice and a diet sheet printed off Google”,’ he said.

Dr Elliot Singer, a medical director at Londonwide LMCs, said the impact on GPs of recent cuts has been noticeable, particularly for weight management.

‘You try to refer someone for bariatric surgery but they can only have it if they’ve undergone 12 months of a weight management programme – but there isn’t one.’

South London GP Dr Alex Bobak, who has a special interest in smoking cessation, described the cuts as ‘appalling’.

‘Services are being cut wholesale. In general, councils are not providing the services and it’s a scandal.’

‘People are being left to stop smoking by themselves and they’re not stopping.

A spokesperson for the Department of Health and Social Care said they had a strong track record on public health.

‘Local authorities are best placed to make choices for their community, which is why we are investing more than £16 billion in local government public health services over the current spending period.’

Readers' comments (13)

  • Vinci Ho

    While we have not got the full details in each individual case , it appears that the local authority/council of concern ‘cleverly’ found a reason to label the service to be scrapped ineffective. The hypocrisy is , of course , cheaper the better is not going to solve the public health problems and their consequences we , GP, have to face .
    And DoHSC , stop telling lies which nobody believes .

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  • As has been widely published the health and well-being of a population is not the amount that is spent on health. Health accounts for 20%. It is housing education and employment that makes up the other 80%. Sadly generations of politicians both local and national have failed to acknowledge the facts and so the cycle begins again. MP's are elected on big issues such as health immigration etc and local Councillors on filling holes in the roads! Cutting public health is easy because it is free choice if you smoke overeat and do no exercise. The consequences however are real and have to be solved by an overstretched health service. Gate and horse bolting analogy needed! Investment in long term health and well=being gets results too far into the future for any politician. The results of cuts now have catastrophic effects to people well after the memory of who made them. The only constant is the primary care who has to absorb the impact.

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  • It really feels like we are just abandoning the most vulnerable in society.

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  • Non-evidence based wishful thinking services scrapped = good news.

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  • This was predicted when public health funding was transferred from the NHS to council status. Its history repeating itself. One of the reasons public health was taken from council funding originally was because of such issues as failure to fund public health issues. QED

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  • "It really feels like we are just abandoning the most vulnerable in society"

    Feel free, as a member of the top 1% by income, to take a pay-cut to help out.

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  • AlanAlmond

    This is basically a funding cut to primary care support services. These peoples problems don’t disappear, they just go and see their GP instead. I used to work in a drug and alcohol service, I no longer do. As a Dr I was too expensive. The work is now primarily carried out by cheaper staff and the treatment agenda has conveniently moved towards a politicised ‘recovery’ model, which means treatment is effectively ‘time limited’, and the heroin dependant (a chronic relapsing condition) are all expected to mysteriously ‘get better’ without longer term (aka expensive) maintenance support. No surprise over-dose death rates are on the rise. I wonder why that might be. These cuts have real consequences. It’s just easier to pretend they don’t and fain supprise at the ensuing mess several years down the line. I look forward to venerable reasearch papers in the coming years confirming you don’t save money denying help to vulnerable desperate people to move away from unhappy and unproductive lives.

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  • To put it nicely, the era of personal responsibility has come and in a way it should as no one can force a person to change their lifestyles or habits. However some support would be helpful.

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  • In a few years time when there's an inevitable increase in the amount of deformed babies born to crack addicted obese alcoholic mothers there will be an out cry..''something must be done!!"

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  • AlanAlmond

    The problem is drug dependancy doesn’t just impact the individual who ‘chooses’ to misuse the drug. A good deal of the fall out lands on the perfectly innocent, their children, their partner, the people who raised them, and not forgetting the victims of crimes committed in a desperate attempt to fund a habit. Public health funding for problems such as this is as much about the welfare of wider society as the individual themselves. Cutting funding for substance misuse treatments impacts on criminal justice and social service budgets ...and not in a good way.

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