Services tackling obesity, sexual health and addiction cut in 90% of councils
Ninety percent of councils have cut funding to weight management, sexual health and addiction services in a bid to save cash, according to new research.
Some areas are scrapping the services altogether, a survey of 80 councils found, leaving GPs to try to cover the gaps.
Doctors have warned that cutting preventative healthcare will put a greater strain on the NHS in the long term as it tries to deal with growing numbers of obesity and addiction-related illnesses.
The public health grant for England was cut by approximately 10% between 2015/2016 and 2019/2020 from £3.5 billion to £3.34 billion.
The research, conducted by GP publication Pulse, found that only 11 out of 80 councils that responded to a Freedom of Information request had maintained spending at last year’s levels.
Drug and alcohol treatment services have been one of the biggest casualties, with 87% of councils cutting funding, followed by sexual health at 83% and stop smoking services at 79%.
Some councils have cut weight management completely, meaning patients end up needing surgical intervention because preventative strategies are unavailable.
The research found that sexual health funding has been cut by an average of 2% across the country this year, following a 5% cut the previous year.
Funding for substance misuse has been cut by an average of 3% this year, on top of a 6% cut the previous year.
Quit smoking services remained the same as 2017/2018 levels but suffered a 17.5% cut in the previous financial year.
Dr Richard Vautrey (pictured), chairman of the British Medical Association’s GP committee, said: “Practices are all too often left picking up the pieces and patients are losing the option of access to important services in their area.
“Ultimately these short-sighted cuts will cost the NHS in the long run as we don’t properly invest in prevention and health promotion.”
Other strategies to fall casualty to the cuts are services for the elderly – the research team cited the example of Essex County Council’s decision to close its falls prevention service at a saving of £2.2 million annually.
A survey completed by 620 GPs across the country said their practices were feeling the impact of the cuts.
Many complained of having to see patients repeatedly to prescribe anti-smoking medication and oral contraceptives, taking up already limited appointment time.
In some parts of the country, doctors treating obese patients cannot refer them for bariatric surgery unless they have undergone 12 months of weight management, but all nearby diet classes have closed.
The reports authors used highlighted the case of Rotherham’s award-winning obesity clinic, which lost its funding last summer after eight years when the local council withdrew funding.
A Department of Health and Social Care spokesman said local authorities are best placed to make decisions for their community and that the Government is investing £16 billion in public health over the current spending period.
“We have a strong track record on public health – smoking levels are at an all-time low, more people than ever are being tested for sexually transmitted infections and the number of people infected continues to fall,” he said.
Dr Tony Rao, co-chairman of the substance misuse in older people working group at the Royal College of Psychiatrists, said: “The College has been warning for years that cuts to drug and alcohol services are misplaced.
“This is because the burden of care is simply passed onto other parts of the NHS, including ambulance call outs, A&E attendances and hospital admissions, all of which are going up. Rising rates of alcohol and drug-related deaths reflect the urgent need for specialist addiction services which are tailored to improving both mental and physical health.”
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