Public health commissioners were forced to cap funding of GP-run NHS Health Checks as a direct result of the Government’s mid-year cuts in funding, a local authority has said.
Hertfordshire County Council told Pulse it needed to make savings as a result of the cuts – and hoped GPs would come to an agreement with them over how to achieve this.
The Government introduced a £200m cut in the public health budget in June as part of a raft of measures to ‘bring down public debt’ – although it insisted this was on projected underspends and would not affect frontline services.
As revealed by Pulse, public health commissioners in Hertfordshire recently wrote to GP practices to request the change to their contracts – meaning they will be paid only for the health checks they have already completed so far this year.
Local GP leaders have vowed to fight the contract change, warning that it will force practices to lay off staff and cut other GP-run services, but say they have been accused of putting GPs’ ‘personal interests’ ahead of the need to sustain other public health services such as those for drug and alcohol misuse.
The council admitted the contract change would mean fewer health checks would be delivered under the scheme this year than planned – but insisted it was not siphoning the funding off in order to keep running drug and alcohol misuse services.
Jim McManus, director of public health at Hertfordshire County Council, said: ‘This decision has come as a result of the Government announcement to bring in mid-year cuts to public health budgets. We have to find areas to make savings, and while we appreciate the situation is far from ideal, we are hoping GPs will work with us to accept the terms of a new agreement.’
Mr McManus said: ‘We are absolutely not requesting these changes so that we can divert the money to drug and alcohol misuse services, or any other services.’
He added that the council was ‘very grateful for all the work that has gone in to providing NHS Health Checks over the past two years’ and it remained ‘committed to working with GPs to deliver the five year programme, ensuring good quality services are delivered’.
The GPC previously told Pulse the funding problems in Hertfordshire showed the Government was ‘misleading’ people about the impact on frontline services.
When announcing the cuts, the Treasury said ‘difficult decisions need to be made’ to reduce the country’s deficit and that it was currently reviewing feedback on how to minimise the impact of the cuts.
A DH spokesperson said: ‘Difficult decisions need to be made right across Government to reduce the deficit and ensure the sustainability of our public services. That’s why we have been consulting on how best to deliver these savings in a way that minimises any impact on services.
‘We are now considering the responses.’