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Public health services to be cut by £85m in a year

Public health services such as sexual health clinics and substance abuse support are to be cut by £85m, according to new analysis by The King’s Fund.

The analysis, based on Department of Communities and Local Government data, shows that councils in England are planning to spend £3.4bn on public health services in 2017/18.

However, on a like-for-like basis, it was shown that councils will spend only £2.52bn on public health services in 2017/18 compared to £2.60bn the previous year.

Accounting for inflation, The King’s Fund revealed that planned public health spending has decreased by more than 5% since 2013/14.

These reductions follow planned Government cuts in public health funding of at least £600m by 2020/21, on top of £200m already cut from the 2015/16 budget.

A Department of Health spokesperson said: 'We have a strong track record on public health—cancer survival and dementia diagnosis are at a record high whilst smoking rates and teen pregnancies are at an all-time low.

'Over the current spending period we will invest more than £16bn in local government public health services. Moreover, we have shown that we are willing to take tough action to protect the public's health — introducing standardised packaging of cigarettes, a Soft Drinks Industry Levy and a world leading childhood obesity plan.'

The overall public health budget increased between 2016/17 and 2017/18. But this is affected by changes to what is classed as public health spending.

In mid-2015/16 local government took on responsibility for young children’s public health and received a transfer of approximately £400m from the NHS to fund this (rising to approximately £800m in subsequent years).

As this is not growth but a transfer of funds to pay for additional responsibilities, The King’s Fund analysis looks at like-for-like growth excluding the impact of these transfers.

Councils have planned to increase sending for some services, including promoting physical activity and certain children’s services, but the majority will receive reduced funding. This includes the following cuts since last year:

  • Sexual health services by £30m (5% cut).
  • Tackling drug misuse in adults by more than £22m (5.5% cut).
  • Stop smoking services by almost £16m (15% cut).

Over the past four years, planned spending on sexual health services has fallen by £64m (10%). This is despite significant increases in the number of cases of some sexually transmitted infections, including syphilis and gonorrhoea, with only a slight fall in the gonorrhoea rate in 2016.

‘The falsest of false economies’

David Buck, senior fellow in public health and inequalities at The King’s Fund, said: ‘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.

‘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.

‘The Government must reverse these cuts and ensure councils get adequate resources to fund vital public health services.’