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Put words into action on prevention and fund public health

Kat Smithson

80 organisations from across the health sector have issued a consensus statement telling the Government to fund public health (or #fundpublichealth if we’re on twitter).

Since the publication of the Five Year Forward View, there has been fundamental disconnect between the rhetoric and reality of the Government’s commitment to prevention. Its 2018 vision for prevention described a range of community based preventive services and the need to tackle embedded health inequalities, but without substantial reference to the public health framework that already exists to achieve just this.  

This vision does not have to be some utopian vision of the future. But the public health budget has been raided and squeezed to an unsustainable point. A whopping and unprecedented in-year cut of 7% was made to the public health budget in 2015/16 and this has been followed by further cuts of around 4% year on year. If the Government is serious about prevention, then why such significant levels of disinvestment in the infrastructure that delivers it?

This is not the first time this contradiction has been pointed out. The Health and Social Care Select Committee called the public health cuts ‘a false economy’ back in 2017 and the Health Foundation, BMA and Royal College of Nursing are just a few of those who have been very vocal in criticising the public health cuts. In sexual health, more than 8,000 people have signed a petition calling for an increase in the funding.

While the Government maintains that it has protected and even increased NHS funding over recent years, it does not in this claim take account of those services that are contracted via local authorities through the public health budget.

Many people don’t realise that their clinical sexual health clinical are funded entirely through local authorities, as are the prevention and outreach services that support them. The result of the cuts on sexual health? Clinicians are reporting services that are at breaking point and there have been huge increases in STIs such as Gonorrhoea and Syphilis. Prevention services are being rapidly de-funded and this is having the most significant impact on those that target specific groups such as Black and Minority Ethnic communities.  

Like the 80 other organisations who have signed up to this consensus statement, we think it is well past the time that the Treasury delivered on Government’s commitment to prevention. Yes, the Government has rightly injected much needed cash into the NHS, but public health services have seen no extra cash and are often missed out from wider health policy discourse. Rather than being embedded, prevention services are increasingly isolated from the health service. These are the services that will ultimately help us to secure a healthier future and a healthier NHS.

Add your voice to the conversation using the hashtag #fundpublichealth

NAT Topic

May 10, 2019 By charlie.alderwick