Central government cuts have forced councils in England to cut their planned spend on vital public health services by £85 million, according to new analysis by The King’s Fund.
It shows that councils are planning to spend £3.4 billion on public health services in 2017/18. However, on a like-for-like basis - i.e removing the impact of changes to how budgets are calculated over different years - they will spend only £2.52 billion, falling below the £2.60 billion spent the previous year.
“Once inflation is factored in, we estimate that, on a like-for-like basis, planned public health spending is more than 5 per cent less in 2017/18 than it was in 2013/14,” the think tank concludes.
Some services, such as promoting physical activity, are due a funding injection, but most services are facing cuts, it says.
The funding shortfall is most apparent for sexual health services, which will need to cope with a £30 million, or 5 percent, cut compared to last year’s budget. Planned spending on this area has already fallen by £64 million, or by 10 percent, over the past four years, despite significant increases in some sexually transmitted infections such as syphilis and gonorrhoea.
Reduced spending is also on the cards next year for tackling drug misuse, with planned spend down more than £22 million, or 5.5 percent, and stop smoking services, with budgets to be trimmed by nearly £16 million, falling 15 percent.
The King’s Fund argues that these reductions follows government cuts in public health funding of at least £600 million by 2020/21, on top of £200 million already cut from the 2015/16 budget, “despite Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt highlighting in parliament last year that making good progress on public health often has the biggest effect on health inequalities,”.
“Reducing spending on public health is short-sighted at the best of times. But at a time when the rate of syphilis is at its highest level for 70 years, to cut spending on sexual health services is the falsest of false economies and is storing up problems for the future,” said David Buck, Senior Fellow in Public Health and Inequalities at the group.
“The government must reverse these cuts and ensure councils get adequate resources to fund vital public health services.”
Also responding to the findings, Niall Dickson, chief executive of the NHS Confederation, said the government's approach to reforming health care “has been based on the promise of a radical upgrade in prevention and public health, yet all we have seen is cut after cut in this budget. It is self defeating to reduce public health spending while looking to transform care.
“Our members report direct cuts to front-line services, including the treatment of substance misuse, smoking cessation and sexual health. Further gaps in out-of-hospital and social care funding intensifies the pressures on health services.”