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Government cuts will make health inequalities worse, says RCN

North-south health inequalities are likely to get worse under planned public health budget cuts and inner-city London boroughs will be hard hit too 

Government plans to cut £200 million from public health budgets across England will make health inequalities worse, warns the Royal College of Nursing (RCN). 

The RCN says that areas of England that have historically had higher public health funding in recognition of their greater need will suffer under the government’s proposal for a blanket 6.2% funding reduction in January next year.

Blanket cuts could exacerbate north-south health inequalities while inner-city areas of London are likely to bear the brunt, according to the RCN. 

London faces cuts of £5 per person compared with a national average of £3.77, meaning Londoners face a 30% higher cut on average.

The RCN has calculated that the biggest losers in London are the boroughs of Tower Hamlets, losing £2.2 million, Hackney losing £2.09 million, and Westminster losing £2.08 million as part of the plan to cut more than £40 million from London’s public health budget. 

RCN London regional director Bernell Bussue said: ‘Already in London we are seeing school nursing posts lost and other preventative health schemes squeezed out.

‘It is no good claiming to protect the NHS budget but then making huge cuts to local authority services which are there to keep people well and out of hospital. 

‘The health service will, in the long-term, end up paying for these savings many times over.’

The RCN’s Northern office has similar fears for the north east and Cumbria, where in County Durham alone public health will see cuts of more than £3 million.

Public health budgets were transferred to local authorities from the NHS two years ago. 

RCN Northern region spokesperson Jake Turnbull said: ‘It is risible that the government claim they are protecting the NHS budget but at the same time passing on NHS services to local authorities, who are then forced to cut them. 

‘The whole point of preventative health is that it saves the NHS money by keeping people well and out of hospital. 

‘By moving public health from the NHS to local authorities, the chancellor [George Osborne] has undertaken a sleight of hand to cover up for the fact that they have reneged on their commitment to protect the health budget.’

The UK Faculty of Public Health has said that services affected by the cuts could include school nursing and other child health services, suicide prevention and domestic violence prevention.

A Department of Health spokesperson said: ‘The NHS budget will remain protected but difficult decisions need to be made right across government to reduce the deficit. 

‘Local authorities have already set an excellent example of how more can be done for less to provide the best value for the taxpayer. 

‘A consultation will now be held with them to decide the best way of delivering the savings that need to be made.’

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