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Shadow health secretary raises Pulse findings in Commons public health debate

A Pulse investigation into GPs plugging public health gaps was mentioned in a Commons public health debate this week.

The shadow health and social care secretary, Jon Ashworth, mentioned the investigation while debating public health spending reductions on Tuesday. 

Mr Ashworth, who is Labour MP for Leicester South, raised the issue of cuts to public health services and questioned why weight management programmes were being cut in communities when the UK has ‘one of the worst childhood obesity rates in western Europe.’

In his argument, Mr Ashworth quoted GPs who told Pulse last year that public health cuts were hitting GP surgeries hard.

He added: ‘Another GP told Pulse: “You try to refer someone for bariatric surgery but they can only have it if they’ve undergone 12 months of a weight management programme—but there isn’t one.”’

In a Pulse investigation last year, it was revealed that GPs were having to take on more work after several councils had cut weight management services altogether.

Mr Ashworth said that while the secretary of state may talk about the ‘support for social prescribing that he has given to general practice’, he simultaneously cuts public health budgets.

He said: ‘I hazard a guess that when the secretary of state stands up, he will talk about the support for social prescribing that he has given to general practice so that GPs can send people for more of this activity. But, at the same time, public health budgets are cutting these very types of activities. One hand does not know what the other hand is doing.’

Pulse also revealed that 90% of councils were cutting smoking, sexual health, alcohol misuse, and weight management services.

Mr Ashworth continued: ‘It makes absolutely no sense to cut alcohol addiction services, as that fails a number of vulnerable people in society and only increases pressures on the wider NHS.’

A BMA report published in March called on the health secretary to ‘commit to increased and sustained funding to public health services‘.

A recent survey also revealed less than 10% of councils in England are still commissioned smoking cessation through primary care.