Local authorities have been forced to reduce planned public health spending on services including drug and alcohol treatment by £85m as a result of government cuts, says The King’s Fund.
Councils in England will spend £2.52bn on public health services in 2017-18 compared to £2.6bn the previous year, according to the think tank’s analysis of Department of Communities and Local Government data. ‘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,’ says the organisation.
While some services, such as promoting exercise, will actually see increased funding, money for tackling drug misuse in adults will face a 5.5 per cent cut of £22m, with specialist drug and alcohol services for children and young people, sexual health and smoking cessation also facing substantial reductions. Services are already struggling with the impact of a £200m cut to the 2015-16 public health budget (DDN, September 2015, page 4), as well as planned ongoing reductions until the end of the decade. Although some local authorities have been ‘innovative in contracting and in seeking efficiencies’ in their public health budgets, there is ‘little doubt that we are now entering the realms of real reductions in public health services’ says The King’s Fund.
‘These planned cuts in services are the result of central government funding cuts that are increasingly forcing councils to make difficult choices about which services they fund,’ said senior fellow in public health and inequalities at The King’s Fund, David Buck. ‘Reducing spending on public health is short-sighted at the best of times. The government must reverse these cuts and ensure councils get adequate resources to fund vital public health services.’
Chair of the BMA’s public health committee, Dr Iain Kennedy, said the cuts signified ‘a huge step backwards for public health’ that would ‘inevitably’ cost the NHS far more in the long term, while RSPH chief executive Shirley Cramer said the scale of the reductions would be ‘devastating’ for the nation’s health. ‘Short-sighted cuts to sexual health, drug misuse and stop smoking services are a false economy – saving money in the short term but costing far more over coming decades, while jeopardising precious gains we have made to cut the number of smokers and efforts to tackle our growing crisis of drug-related deaths,’ she stated.