Ongoing cuts to public health funding in England should be reversed, a report from the British Medical Association (BMA) says.
‘Feeling the squeeze – the local impact of cuts to public health budgets in England’, published on 14 March 2018, analyses the effects that changes to public health funding are having on services across England. Changes to public health spending in local areas do not reflect the needs of local populations, the report claims.
Citing figures from Public Health England, the report highlights cuts around England. It says that Blackpool Council no longer funds specialist smoking cessation services, despite the fact that 22.5% of the town’s population smoke, compared with an average smoking rate in England of 15.5%. And between 2014 and 2016, Blackpool also had England’s highest rate of deaths associated with drug misuse, yet has since been faced with spending cuts to programmes intended to treat, and address harm associated with, misuse of drugs, the report claims.
In London, Lambeth Council cut funding for sexual health promotion, prevention and advice by more than 85% between 2016/2017 and 2017/2018, despite 2016 figures showing that the local authority’s level of new sexually-transmitted infections was the highest in England, the BMA report says.
A spokesperson for Blackpool Council said that following a review of stop smoking provision in Blackpool, “a decision was made to decommission this service as the contract had reached its end date and the service was not meeting the needs of the people in Blackpool”.
“We currently have an interim stop smoking provision through enhanced services delivered by GPs and pharmacists and the usual Smokefree National Helpline,” they said. “Options for a new stop-smoking model that best meets the needs of individuals in Blackpool are currently being developed.”
Responding to the report’s comments on drug misuse budget cuts, Blackpool Council said in a statement: “The level of drug related deaths in Blackpool was and remains high irrespective of our spend on treatment or harm reduction, and shows a closer relationship with wider social circumstances.”
The council said that Blackpool’s opiate-using population was ageing and it was working to improve the management of long-term conditions among drug users.
A spokesperson for Lambeth Council said that while the council’s budget for sexual health promotion, prevention and advice had decreased from £3.3m in 2016/2017 to £0.5m in 2017/2018, the borough’s overall budget for its portfolio of sexual health services had increased from £8.9m in 2016/2017 to £10.8m in 2017/2018.
“The figures contained in the report do not reflect the reality of sexual health services provision in Lambeth. In fact, spending has risen by more than 20%. The issue appears to relate to changes in categorisation of expenditure.”
The BMA report says: “It is particularly concerning that access to vital public health services is being substantially reduced in some local authorities that have high levels of deprivation. Cutting these services is likely to further undermine efforts to tackle health inequalities across England.”
The report concludes by citing a 2017 review that claimed that every £1 invested in public health results in £14 being returned to the wider health and social care economy.