Limited ‘essential’ public health services warning as health grant confirmed

“Essential” public health services will be left with limited resources as they face unprecedented pressure because of inadequate Government funding, councils and experts have said.

The public health grant for councils in 2024/25, confirmed on Monday by public health minister Andrea Leadsom, has increased by 2% to £3.6 billion.

In a written statement, Ms Leadsom (pictured) said: “Funding for local government’s health responsibilities is an essential element of our commitment to invest in preventing ill health, promoting healthier lives and addressing health disparities, and an important complement to our investment in both health and social care.”

But councils say the ringfenced grant has been inadequate for a number of years and and will continue to limit interventions aimed at preventing illness which reduces pressure on the NHS.

David Fothergill, leader of the Conservative group at Somerset Council and chairman of the Local Government Association’s community wellbeing board, said a real terms increase is “positive news”.

But he said public health teams will continue to struggle.

Mr Fothergill said: “This settlement continues to leave local public health teams with limited resources to maintain essential services such as sexual health services and specialist community public health nursing for the next year.

“Public health teams have faced an unprecedented period of pressures, with funding levels not keeping pace with demand.

“Sufficient ongoing funding is needed to ensure all local authorities can continue to meet their statutory public health responsibilities.

“It is vitally important that the Government continues to address challenges which arise over the coming months and years.”

The LGA continues to call for multi-year funding settlements to provide councils with certainty and improve financial planning.

Mr Fothergill added: “An increased focus on prevention through an uplift to the public health grant is urgently needed, as well as a wider review of the adequacy of public health funding.

“This will support the Government’s wider aims by improving health outcomes, reducing health spending and putting social care and the NHS on a better footing for the long term.”

Ms Leadsom said the council allocations are part of broader investment in public health services, including an additional £70 million for stop-smoking services in support of the Government’s bid to deliver a “smoke-free generation”.

But the Association of Directors of Public Health (ADPH) said the grant was “nowhere near enough”, as pay increases combined with high inflation mean it will be the ninth consecutive year of real terms reductions in funding.

ADPH president Greg Fell said: “For nearly a decade now, the amount of money we have to spend on our local populations’ health has been repeatedly cut.

“In spite of our best efforts, this inevitably means that some services have had to be scaled down or, even worse, stopped, despite overwhelming evidence of their impact and effectiveness.

“Next year’s allocation is welcome, but nowhere near enough to reverse these cuts and means that this will, very sadly, continue to be the case.

“There is currently a lot of talk from all the political parties about the need for prevention.

“If they are serious, and genuinely want to help people avoid getting entirely preventable diseases, then the next Government needs to make a dramatic change to how our local public health services are funded.”

Communities Secretary Michael Gove on Monday formally confirmed the overall local government financial settlement for 2024/25.

The Government recently made an extra £600 million available to councils, including £500 million for social care, after warnings of a widespread threat to frontline services and the financial viability of councils.

However, Mr Gove told councils that the additional funding “should not be put aside for later use nor spent wastefully”.

He pointed out that councils’ financial reserves overall remain “significantly” higher than before the pandemic.

“We continue to encourage local authorities to consider, where possible, the use of their reserves to maintain services in the face of these pressures,” Mr Gove added.

The Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities has asked councils to submit “productivity plans” detailing how they plan to improve services and reduce “wasteful expenditure, for example on consultants or discredited equality, diversity and inclusion programmes”.

Future funding settlements will be “informed by performance against these plans”, Mr Gove said.

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