The UK Government has set out a major commitment to promoting health and prevention of illness, with the announcement of a two-year ring-fenced budget for local authorities.
For the first time, from April this year, public health budgets will be protected, with local authorities taking the lead for improving the health of their local communities. This will help drive local efforts to improve health and wellbeing by tackling the wider determinants of poor health.
The way budgets have been decided also marks a new way of funding public health services. Building on advice from an independent expert group - the Advisory Committee on Resource Allocation (ACRA) – governmental funding will be specifically targeted at those areas with the worst health outcomes. This means the areas with the greatest needs will receive more money.
In 2013/14 the budget for local public health services will be just under £2.7 billion and in 2014/15, the budget will raise marginally to just under £2.8 billion.
Providing a two-year budget will also give local authorities – who will essentially be in charge of public health in their areas from April - a clearer, long-term understanding of their future funding as they prepare to take on their new responsibilities, according to the government.
Health secretary Jeremy Hunt said: “Too many people die too early from diseases that can be prevented. I want more people to be able to look forward to an independent and active old age and developing high quality public health services is essential to make this a reality. Today’s announcement is a major investment and a step toward securing these services for the areas that need them most."
He added: “By putting local authorities in charge of public health, we are giving them the power, freedom and the funding to tackle the issues that blight their local areas, and help improve the lives of their local communities. Improving the health of local people will be at the heart of everything they do – from social care to transport, housing, planning and environment.”
Jo Webber, interim director of policy at the NHS Confederation said local authorities will play a more crucial role in improving the health of their communities from April 2013. "It is really encouraging to see the government asserting its commitment to improving health outcomes by providing an increase in the overall public health budget. This increased funding will help secure vital investment in improving people's health, allowing people to change unhealthy lifestyle choices, and help raise awareness about preventing ill health. As the NHS comes under increasing pressure to manage more demand while having to create significant savings, prevention is key.
"Having their budgets set for the next two years will enable local authorities to work with local NHS commissioners through health and wellbeing boards to develop a more robust plan about how best to improve the health of local populations."