£800M reduction in public health budgets ‘incredibly short-sighted and devastating’

More than eight out of 10 councils are being forced to reduce their public health budgets this year following £96 million in “devastating” Tory health cuts, the Labour Party has said.

In total, local authorities will have to make £800 million of public health cuts over six years, the party said.

Its analysis of this year’s Revenue Account Budget figures published by the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government shows public health budgets aimed specifically at children are being cut by a total of £25.9 million year on year.

It found sexual health services will be among the worst hit – reduced by 95 councils and losing £17.6 million in 2017/18 – while substance misuse will be cut by 114 councils and lose £34 million.

Smoking cessation budgets will fall by £3.1 million and obesity budgets by £1 million, its analysis found.

The Royal Society for Public Health (RSPH) said it had “grave concerns” about Labour’s findings while the Royal College of Nursing (RCN) said “slashing these vital preventative services will hit the poorest hardest, and exacerbate health inequality well into the future”.

Labour said 130 out of 152 local authorities (85%) plan to reduce their public health budgets in 2018/19, with funding reduced by £96.3 million on last year.

The party said it is calling for the Government to reverse these “damaging” cuts to public health in the Autumn Budget.

Shadow Health Secretary Jonathan Ashworth (pictured) said: “When drug-related deaths are at their highest ever, when rates of STDs are rising, when more children are leaving school obese than ever before and when improvements in life expectancy have slowed, then these swingeing cuts to public health budgets are short sighted, cynical and wrong.

“Local services which are there to keep people well and out of hospital are to be slashed in every part of England.

“The fact is these cuts to health budgets will leave people sicker, and in the long run will cost the NHS much more than they save.

“These cuts are pushing us to a public health crisis.

“Ahead of the Government’s 10 Year Plan for the NHS, ministers must reverse these cuts because no plan for the NHS can work without a properly-funded plan for prevention too.”

RSPH said Labour’s findings came as improvements in life expectancy have stalled, drug-related deaths in England and Wales have hit an all-time high, rates of smoking among pregnant women have risen for the first time on record and childhood obesity rates hit a record high.

It said preventative economic investment in public health services has been shown to save money.

For example, every £1 spent on contraception within sexual health services saves £11 in healthcare costs.

RSPH chief executive Shirley Cramer said: “This analysis shows the considerable scale and breadth of cuts to services which improve and protect the public’s health.

“In 2014, (NHS England chief executive) Simon Stevens called for a ‘radical upgrade in prevention’, but what we are facing is a record downgrade in funding which is already having dire consequences for the NHS.

“We believe these are incredibly short-sighted cuts and will yet again have a devastating impact on the longer term health of our nation.

“Cuts to sexual health, stop smoking services and drug misuse will save money in the short term, however they will cost far more over coming decades.

“We are particularly concerned at cuts to services supporting the health and wellbeing of children and young people because we know that early intervention is so important.”

Helen Donovan, professional lead for public health at the RCN, said: “Keeping people healthy for longer should be front and centre of Government policy, not treated as an optional extra.

“Everyone should have the chance to live a longer, healthier life, and keeping people out of hospital saves money long term.

“With higher levels of childhood obesity, stalling life expectancy and swingeing cuts to sexual health services, it’s clear the progress we’ve made over the last few years is being undone.

“Slashing these vital preventative services will hit the poorest hardest, and exacerbate health inequality well into the future.”

Copyright (c) Press Association Ltd. 2018, All Rights Reserved. Picture (c) Stefan Rousseau / PA Wire.