Letter to Editor: Public Health takes a hit
Politics / Mon 28th Nov 2022 at 08:08am
THE Autumn Budget Statement delivered on 17 November had much to say on increasing funding for the NHS, but very little on public health.
Chancellor Jeremy Hunt was excited to announce the government were increasing NHS spending by an extra £3.3 billion per year for the next two years.
However, Shadow Secretary of State for Work and Pensions Jonathan Ashworth stated yesterday (21/11) in parliament: “As the Chancellor well knows…overall health spending includes public health, capital and training budgets, which means that the uplift is 1.2%. That is below the 2% of the Osborne years and well below the historic 4% uplifts that health services enjoyed historically.”
The Local Government Association (LGA), which represents local authorities in England and Wales, are equally critical and stated they were “disappointed that there is no commitment to recognising the need to support public health services in a similar way to the NHS.”
The LGA highlighted that “the public health grant has been reduced by 24 per cent in real terms per capita since 2015/16, equivalent to a total reduction of £1 billion. Inflation is reducing the value of the grant further still.”
The results of this near quarter cut in public health spending are, says the LGA, to “force councils to make significant cuts to services next April, including drug and alcohol treatment, sexual and reproductive health, health visiting, school nursing, suicide prevention and health protection.”
Many of us, given the recent Covid pandemic, will probably share the LGA’s concerns: “The pandemic laid bare the importance of public health investment, yet the cuts to funding undermine efforts to prepare for the next major public health threat and desires to improve prevention to reduce pressures on the NHS and social care.”
With our Conservative government focused on growth one must wonder if the Tories have missed a trick. Geraint Davies, Labour MP for Swansea West, stated in Parliament yesterday: “Is he (Jonathan Ashworth) aware of the report in the Financial Times showing that, for every extra pound spent on the health service, we get £4 of growth?”
Whilst some may doubt that figure, the World Health Organisation Europe office stated the same in its 2014 report ‘The Case for Spending on Public Health’. It also had this prophetic warning in its conclusions: “Many structures for delivering public health services in the WHO European Region are already facing substantial cutbacks, and public health
programmes and interventions in several countries have been reorganized or scaled down. These short-term measures risk escalating demand and costs in the future – costs that evidence shows can be prevented with cost effective measures.”
Perhaps the 2.5 million out of work through ill health in Britain may be wondering if more had been spent on public health whether they would be in the same situation?
Likewise, taxpayers must be wondering what the future holds when the Office of Budget Responsility predicts that the above health related unemployment figure will rise by another 1 million, costing £7.5 billion extra in sickness benefits.