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Government must halt cuts to public health or risk destabilising wider NHS, say MPs

The Government ‘must commit’ to protecting public health budgets or risk the health of future generations and widening health inequality, the Commons Health Select Committee has said.

The ’Public health post-2013: structures, organisation, funding and delivery inquiry’ report found there was general ’but not universal support’ for local authorities taking responsibility for public health, with concerns raised about the ‘fragmentation’ of services.

The committee found that in some local authorities good progress has been made, with modest positive impact on public health outcomes already being seen - but it found variability, with less headway being made in others.

The new public health system is designed to be locally driven, and therefore a degree of variation between areas is to be expected

Prime Minister Theresa May committed to tackling the ‘burning injustice’ of health inequality in her first speech, but MPs say local authorities are being hamstrung by budget cuts.

This includes the loss of £200 million in public health funding last year, as these budgets were deemed to be outside the pledged ring fence on NHS spending.

The Committee’s report states these cuts are a ‘false economy’, and adds: ‘Further cuts to public health will also threaten the future sustainability of NHS services if we fail to manage demand from preventable ill health.’

It also recommends: ‘The Government sets out how changes to local government funding and the removal of ring fencing can be managed so as not to further disadvantage areas with high deprivation and poor health outcomes.

The report calls for national standards for all public health functions to be benchmarked and monitored so local authorities can be held accountable.

It also called on the Government to ‘take bold and brave action through its life chances and childhood obesity strategies’, although the childhood obesity strategy published last week was widely criticised for leaving out key interventions.

Commenting on the report’s release today, health committee chair and Conservative MP Dr Sarah Wollaston said: ‘The disappointing watering down of the childhood obesity strategy, published in August, demonstrates the gap in joined-up evidence-based policy to improve health and wellbeing.

‘Government must match the rhetoric on reducing health inequality with a resolve to take on big industry interests and will need to be prepared to go further if it is serious about achieving its stated aims.’

Readers' comments (3)

  • Public Health have failed as a professional group.

    They have allowed themselves to fail and become irrelevant.

    It would be healthy to allow them to disappear as long as the rest of the medical profession learn from their strategic incompetence ( from a college leadership level rather then individual basis).

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  • The probelm with Public Health Departments I have come across is that they are comfortably numb producing needs assessments and reports but doing little proactively to ensure public health messages are getting across to the public. Bit ironic really given their title.

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  • Public Health is hamstrung by the vested interests of the commercial supply of alcohol food soft drinks etc. Anything that could harm profits outweigh any health benefits. Public health budgets have always been raided as the returns take too long to be delivered. It also points a finger at the inadequacies in policies for joined up thinking on health and wellbeing. Now that Public Health is back in Councils there is hope that true provision is made for prevention not just headline grabbing promises that never materialise.

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