Public health cuts: a false economy

The future £20 billion for the NHS is also welcome; but the NHS is only part of the solution. These commitments must be matched by meaningful investment in public health, so councils can provide services that prevent ill health, reduce inequalities, and support a sustainable health and social care system.

A whole-systems approach to prevention in the NHS and local government is vital if we’re serious about improving health.

The Health Foundation, a charity, has reported a £700 million reduction in public health funding. This is worrying and reflects a system locked in ‘treatment mode’.

“We’re calling on the Government to increase public health funding for local authorities

To give one example from the public health portfolio: since 2014, spending on stop smoking services has dropped by 32 per cent – the biggest reduction in all the areas of public health provision.

We know political support for tobacco control remains high and yet, in 2017, half of councils were forced to reduce budgets for these services, with funding cuts cited as the main reason.

Smoking remains the biggest preventable cause of cancer and premature death, and costs councils as much as £760 million every year. When we know four in 10 cancers are preventable, reducing funding for public health becomes the falsest of economies.

We’re calling on the Government to increase public health funding for local authorities in this year’s Spending Review. We’re inviting councils to support this by tabling our template notice of motion: see

Clarity is also needed on the transition from grant funding to 75 per cent business rates retention. Public health was excluded from the Fair Funding Review and has not been piloted outside Greater Manchester. We know so little
that the prospect and potential impact of this rolling-out in 2020 is concerning.

Sustainable funding for public health is essential if we’re to embed a more targeted approach to prevention closer to home. Only then will we be able to say prevention is better than cure.


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