GP practices will ‘struggle to cope’ as Government policy is forcing public health budget cuts of several millions in some areas.
GPC deputy chair Dr Richard Vautrey, a GP in Leeds, said already under pressure practices would be picking up work when Leeds City Council is forced to cut £7.8m off its public health budget over the course of the next two years.
The council has just annunced its latest round of cuts, of £3.9m in 2016/17 and £1.1m in 2017/18, as public health funding is already due to reduce by £2.8m by the end of the current financial year – amounting to a reduction of almost £8m in total.
The council still has to find £600,000 further savings by April, with local reports suggesting Leeds’ only HIV support service, run by BHA Leeds Skyline, could lose its contract in March.
Ahead of the April deadline, the council has already cut £2.2m from 22 public health services including smoking cessation services worth £127,000 and £25,000 from sexual health services.
However, BHA Leeds Skyline told Pulse that although it will face some cuts, its HIV service will remain open.
Councillor Lisa Mulherin, executive member for health, wellbeing and adult services, said the cuts are ’likely to be followed by more reductions in subsequent years’ in order to cope with a £650m deficit for healthcare services.
Dr Vautrey, who is also assistant medical secretary of Leeds LMC, told Pulse there is a ‘fear that the currently under pressure GP and community service would struggle to cope with any further cuts, particularly of this magnitude, and the focus on public health for the population we serve would be compromised as a result’.
The swingeing cuts follow on from the Government’s decisions to cut £200m from the public health budget last year and to reduce public health budgets by 4% year-on-year for five years.
This comes as experts warned there would be ’far fewer people’ quitting smoking in the coming years after Pulse revealed that councils are cutting their smoking cessation budgets by hundreds of thousands of pounds.
Leeds City Council has yet to confirm which services will be affected by the cuts in the coming years.
Public health funding cuts
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Local authorities have been responsible for holding public health budgets since the April 2013 implementation of the Health and Social Care Act 2012, which abolished Primary Care Trusts (PCTs).
This division, whereby only NHS England funding is protected under the Government’s pledged ringfence of the NHS budget, has left public health budgets vulnerable to the Government’s ambitious plans to reduce the country’s overall deficit.
Only last week, a Pulse investigation revealed that councils across England – including Leeds – are cutting their budgets for smoking cessation by hundreds of thousands, with experts warning of dire consequences to public health as a result.
Meanwhile, sexual health experts have warned cuts to public health budgets could lead to billions in added costs later on.
The Government announced in November’s spending settlement that it would be cutting £1.5bn from ‘non frontline services’ health budgets such as medical training and public health spend during 2016/17.