MPs have urged the Government to stop public health budget cuts or risk “destabilising” the NHS and contributing to health inequalities.
In a report from the Health Select Committee, Public health post-2013 structures, organisation, funding and delivery inquiry.
The report found that local authorities are planning further cuts across a range of public health services in 2016/17, with 72% of local authorities planning to cut drugs and alcohol services – up from 46% the year before.
Funding for health visitors is also being cut in 56% of authorities, whereas just 13% were planning cuts the year before.
Meanwhile, 12% of local authorities are decommissioning weight management services this year, as a further 52% cut funding.
MPs described these cuts to public health and the front line services as “a false economy” as they not only add to the future costs of health and social care but risk widening health inequalities.
The Prime Minister’s first speech described the “burning injustice” of health inequalities, that see poorer people die nine years earlier than the affluent, but the committee has said that local authorities are being crippled by budget cuts.
This includes a £200 million in public health funding last year, with further “real terms” cuts on the way.
The report says: “Further cuts to public health will also threaten the future sustainability of NHS services if we fail to manage demand from preventable ill health.”
The committee recommends setting out “changes to local government funding and the removal of ring fencing can be managed so as not to further disadvantage areas with high deprivation and poor health outcomes.”
The report also notes a growing mismatch between spending on public health and the significance attached to prevention in the NHS 5 Year Forward View.
Dr Sarah Wollaston, health committee chair, said: “The disappointing watering down of the childhood obesity strategy, published in August, demonstrates the gap in joined-up evidence-based policy to improve health and wellbeing.
“Government must match the rhetoric on reducing health inequality with a resolve to take on big industry interests and will need to be prepared to go further if it is serious about achieving its stated aims.”
Donna Kinnair, director of nursing, policy and practice at the Royal College of Nursing, added: “Childhood obesity alone could bankrupt the NHS if not tackled but the opportunity to take radical action has not been taken, with plans downgraded and investment denied.
“The stark fact recognised in this report is that it is the worst off who will suffer most from the failure to invest in public health services. Poverty and poor health go together, and without the interventions of vital public health services, problems can persist through the generations.
“Failing to invest in the services that can break the cycle of poor health and deprivation will simply perpetuate gross inequality and damage the lives of many. This has to be recognised and local and national governments should act now to prevent potential public health disasters in the years to come.”