This site is intended for health professionals only

Tory public health plans must be evidence-led, says RCGP chair

By Gareth Iacobucci

Conservative plans to divert ring-fenced public health funds to deprived areas must be driven by hard evidence, and not just because they are 'politically tasty', the chair of the RCGP has warned.

The Tories' draft health manifesto for the upcoming general election - published on Monday - revealed plans to weight public health funding in order to divert extra resources to the poorest areas with the worst health outcomes.

RCGP chair Professor Steve Field welcomed the move to commit more cash to public health initiatives, but warned that money should be spent on schemes supported by hard evidence, and not purely for political gains.

Professor Field cautioned that previous schemes had seen large amounts of money poured into projects at PCT level, which had ultimately had little or no impact on improving public health.

He said it was particularly vital not to waste money in light of the huge financial pressures facing the health service.

‘I really do welcome the emphasis on health prevention, and initiatives to direct money into areas of need,' he said.

‘But what we mustn't do is pour money into initiatives which either sound politically tasty or high profile. I support the policy but whatever we do needs to be evaluated. We mustn't waste money on things that don't work.'

‘In the past, whichever party has been in power, people have put money into projects at PCT level which don't work. I think we should invest in proven initiatives, and if we're not sure, they should be thoroughly piloted before being rolled out.'

Dr Anna Dixon, acting chief executive of the King's Fund, said tackling health inequalities would remain a daunting challenge for whoever forms the next Government.

Dr Dixon said: ‘A focus on health inequalities is undoubtedly welcome but the gap in health between rich and poor is a long standing problem that the NHS has been trying to tackle since its foundation.'

'NHS money is already allocated to areas based on deprivation as well as clinical need. It's not clear whether [the Tories'] announcement is a move away from existing PCT allocation formulas or creates additional public health funding.'

RCGP chair Professor Steve Field RCGP chair Professor Steve Field