Councils and directors of public health have called for an urgent extension of local outbreak management funding because of rising rates of COVID-19.

Without the funding extension, councils will not have the capacity to tackle rising rates of community transmission and future variants because of a loss of relevant expertise, the LGA has warned.

Meanwhile, an exclusive LGA survey, launched at its annual public health conference on 23-24 March, has found that more than half of councils say their public health services are running with disruptions because of staffing shortages.

There are growing concerns that staff have been left exhausted from the strain of tackling the pandemic over the past two years, with local authorities finding it increasingly challenging to recruit and retain staff.

An LGA spokesperson said: “Although vaccination now means many can live a more normal existence alongside the virus, COVID-19 is not going away, with community transmission still rising in many parts of the country. 

“There will need to be a continuing role for councils and their public health teams as we move to a new phase of this pandemic. Although this won’t require the same level of funding as the Government has provided so far, they will need ongoing funding support.

“It is vitally important that the Government extends part of the Contain Outbreak Management Fund (COMF). This will allow councils to respond to new variants, tackle outbreaks in at-risk settings, and recruit and retain vital public health staff.”

COMF, which has provided £400 million to local authorities in England during the pandemic, was set to end as first was going to press, and the Government had not committed to a replacement.

LGA analysis shows that the public health grant, which provides dedicated funding for all council public health functions, has reduced by 24 per cent in real terms since 2015/16, equivalent to a total reduction of £1 billion. The greatest reductions have been in deprived areas with the highest levels of health inequalities.

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