Directors of children’s services to be given responsibilities for public health policy

Directors of children’s services are to take a greater role in managing public health, the government has announced in its latest health white paper.

The white paper, Healthy Lives, Healthy People, outlines proposals to move around £4bn of public health funding to local government control.

This includes setting up health and wellbeing boards to ensure councils and health commissioners work together to improve the health of their community.

Among those to be guaranteed seats on the boards are directors of children’s and adult services, and local GPs, who will be handed commissioning powers under plans unveiled earlier this year in the government’s previous white paper Equity and Excellence: Liberating the NHS.

Also included in Healthy Lives, Healthy People are plans to create a director of public health role in each area to oversee local health strategy. The white paper says it expects these directors to be “strategic leaders for public health and health inequalities in local communities” and work closely with children’s professionals and schools on child health matters. They will also be given a seat on their local health and wellbeing board.

A public health organisation called Public Health England will also be set up to take overall responsibility for public health funding, which will be ringfenced to protect it from the swathe of cuts sweeping local government.

In addition, a public health outcomes framework to measure performance will be created. Councils that exceed targets will be rewarded with extra funding through a “health premium”.

Councillor Colin Barrow, London Councils’ executive member for health and adult services, said: “Only local councils have both the oversight and the levers needed to bring about improvements to community health and wellbeing – whether that is tackling obesity or encouraging sensible alcohol consumption.

“Across London, you can already see examples of where local authorities are doing what they can to drive up public health – from rewarding children for walking to school to promoting exercise opportunities for older people.

“Transferring responsibility for health improvement to councils will help them bring about even greater gains and we look forward to working closely with our communities and local GPs to make these reforms a success.”

Nigel Edwards, acting chief executive of the NHS Confederation, added: “Co-operation between relevant services and activities will be the key to making sure the government’s plans for public health work. The white paper needs to be the start of a process of bringing together all the services and initiatives which help to support a healthier population. This kind of overarching approach is particularly important in improving mental health and wellbeing where community-based services are vital.”

Further details of the plans will be revealed in a forthcoming health and social care bill.