Public health cuts are ‘short-sighted’, health visiting is ‘under attack’

Squeeze on public health budgets could store up future health inequalities

Squeeze on public health budgets could store up future health inequalities

Picture: iStock

Local authorities in England will reduce their public health budgets in 2018/19 by 85%, which amounts to a total of £96.3 million, the Labour Party claims.

It also said public health budgets that aim to address children's issues including physical activity and obesity, are being slashed by £25.9 million. Sexual health services are being cut by 95 councils and will lose £17.6 million this financial year, Labour's analysis suggests.

Labour's shadow health secretary Jonathan Ashworth said public health cuts would be ‘short-sighted and cynical’, while the union Unite, which represents health visitors, school nurses and sexual health advisers, said health visiting is under ‘sustained attack’ because of government constraints on council budgets.

'Behind the figures are human stories'

Unite national officer for health Sarah Carpenter, said there had been a 22% drop in health visitor numbers since October 2015.

She added: 'Behind these bald figures, there are human stories of distress as health visitors, stretched wafer-thin, struggle to deal with cases of postnatal depression and possible domestic abuse.’

‘Keeping people healthy for longer should not be treated as an optional extra’

Helen Donovan, RCN public health lead

Local Government Association figures show councils' public health government grant funding has been cut by £600 million for the period 2015/16-2019/20.

LGA community wellbeing board chair Ian Hudspeth, a Conservative councillor in Oxfordshire, warned that many local authorities were having to make decisions about key services ‘including stopping them altogether’.

RCN professional lead for public health, Helen Donovan, said: ‘Keeping people healthy for longer should not be 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.

‘We are giving £16 billion to local councils for public health’

Department of Health

‘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.’

A Department of Health and Social Care spokesperson said: ‘We are giving £16 billion to local councils to fund public health services over the current spending period.’ 

Labour's analysis was based on this year’s revenue account budget figures published by the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government.

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