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BMA: Government must stop cutting funding for ‘deteriorating’ public health services

BMA: Government must stop cutting funding for ‘deteriorating’ public health services
By Anviksha Patel
28 March 2019

The BMA is calling on the Government to stop cutting funding for ‘deteriorating’ public health services.

The warnings come as part of a BMA report, which has called on health secretary Matt Hancock to take a more comprehensive approach to preventative healthcare in the upcoming green paper, which is expected to be published later this year.

The report said public health cuts of over £550m since 2015/16 – which have seen alcohol and obesity services funding cut by over 10% and smoking cessation services budgets cut by over 20% – have led to the deterioration of services.

In November, Mr Hancock said the NHS needs a ‘radical shift’ in how it sees itself, and should move from a ‘hospital service for the ill’, to a national service ‘to keep us healthy’.

The BMA report, published today, has told the Government to:

  • Commit to increased and sustained funding to public health services in the forthcoming spending review, reversing the £550m cuts that have occurred since 2015/16
  • Introduces more effective regulation to tackle the key lifestyle factors, such as excessive drinking, smoking and poor diet – all of which continue to cause ill-health. For example, the introduction of Minimum Unit Pricing across the UK
  • Ensure prevention is a priority for the NHS, with an increased focus on the role of the health service in narrowing health inequalities and creating healthier environments. For example, ensuring all transport associated with the health service meets specific criteria for minimising air pollution and ensuring a smoke-free NHS

BMA Public Health Medicine committee chair Dr Peter English said the cuts have come at a time when ‘inequalities in life expectancy are widening’.

He said: ‘Public health is a vital part of the NHS. Smoking cessation courses, weight management programmes, as well as drug and alcohol dependency treatments, make a real difference to people’s lives, and in the long term can save the NHS vital resources by preventing conditions like alcoholism or obesity, which can cost substantial sums to treat.

‘Unfortunately, we have seen a systematic pattern in the past decade of all parts of the public health sector being subjected to a funding squeeze that has left preventive health care in crisis. A lack of joined up thinking and national standards has led to widening health inequalities.

‘These cuts come at a time when inequalities in life expectancy are widening. In England, males living in the most deprived areas are now expected to die ten years earlier than those living in the least deprived, while for females the gap is seven and a half years.

He added: ‘We need to see the upcoming Green Paper as an opportunity to address these failures and put in place a well-funded, coordinated plan that provides patients with a preventive health system that meets their needs.’

Last month, GPs warned that severe cuts to public health services by Walsall Council will leave GPs ‘unable to cope.’

A Pulse investigation last year revealed that GPs were left to pick up the work after the public health grant for England was cut by almost 10% (£531m) from 2015/16 to 2019/20, in addition to reductions in other funding schemes that feed into public health programmes.

Budget cuts even forced a county council to nearly scrap the local infection control service for GPs, however the plan was rolled back amid risks of ‘avoidable disability and death of residents’.

Research by the Labour Party published last year also found that 85% of councils had reduced their public health budgets in 2018.

A version of this story was first published on our sister publication Pulse.

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