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:
- Rotherham – An award winning £1m weight management service has been scrapped, which experts say has led to more patients being referred inappropriately for surgery before they are ready;
- Essex - Scrapping its fall prevention service from June to save £2.2m a year, a decision NHS North East Essex CCG warned ‘poses a significant risk to patient safety’;
- Wolverhampton - Cutting counselling services for young people, to be replaced by school-based services that will help young people ‘build resilience’;
- London - Sexual health services switched to an online testing model;
- Havering – Weight management services for children and adults decommissioned, with focus shifting to ‘prevention’.
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.’