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Health charities call for ‘urgent reinvestment’ to reverse public health cuts

A group of leading health and social care charities have united to call on the Government to reverse the cuts made to public health funding.

The King’s Fund and the Health Foundation think tanks have urged the Government to return £1 billion of real-terms per head funding to the public health budget.

A group of 14 major charities, including Macmillan Cancer Support, Asthma UK and Age UK, are also backing the call for public health budgets to be restored.

The Richmond Group of Charities said unless health, social care and public health services were all funded sufficiently ‘they risk collapsing altogether’.

The public health grant currently stands at £3.1bn per year – £850m lower in real terms than in 2015/16 – according to analysis by the Health Foundation.

The think tank also warned that the expected delay to the Government’s spending review would mean provisional plans to cut the grant further – a real-terms cut of £50 million in 2020/21, or a 25% drop since 2015/16 – will likely go ahead.

David Finch, senior fellow at the Health Foundation, said: ‘The public health grant is not a nice-to-have. Without urgent reinvestment, we will continue to see a direct impact on people’s long-term health as well as increasing pressure on wider public services including the NHS, which are already under considerable strain.’

Siva Anandaciva, chief analyst at the King’s Fund, said: ‘The continued cuts to public health funding are short-sighted and at odds with the Government-stated mantra that “prevention is better than cure”.

‘Whilst local authorities have tried to make do by introducing efficiencies like offering online services, the budget squeeze is now taking its toll, with latest figures showing rising incidence of some sexually transmitted infections such as syphilis.

‘As the House of Commons Health and Social Care Committee said last week, cuts to public health services are a false economy. By not taking action, the government is simply delaying decisions and storing up problems for the future.’

Richmond Group of Charities chair Chris Askew said: ‘The Government must take decisive action and deliver an ambitious funding package that sets our nation’s health on the right path.

‘Our health, social care and public health systems sink or swim together: unless they are all funded appropriately, they risk collapsing altogether.

‘That is why we are supporting this call for investment: we cannot afford not to.’

The cuts have been felt by GPs, with four in 10 saying they’d been asked to provide public health services without being paid, according to a Pulse survey.

A history of public health cuts:

In 2015, the Government decided to cut £200m from the public health budget.

Public health services have seen cuts of over £550m since 2015/16, according to a BMA report.

Alcohol and obesity services have had their budget cut by over 10%.

A Pulse investigation back in 2016 found more than 20 local councils were scaling back their GP-run contraceptive and sexual health services.

Stop smoking services have been cut by over 20%, and one survey shows less than 10% of councils are commissioning smoking cessation as of April this year.

Some councils ended GP referrals to weight loss and exercise services as a result of the cuts in 2016.