Public health cuts called ‘false economy’ by MPs

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Government cuts to public health budgets are a ‘false economy’, MPs have announced.

In 2015, councils had some £200 million stripped from public health funding, which came shortly after taking over responsibility for services from the NHS.

The House of Commons Health Committee calls for a cabinet office minister responsible for ensuring all government policy takes health into account. Their report also suggests that councils should be required to consider the health implications of planning and licensing decisions – and should also have power to do so by law.

It is a call on the Prime Minister to fulfil her pledge to end the ‘burning injustice’ of shorter lifespans for the poor by boosting public health, after the criticism of the newly released childhood obesity strategy.

Committee Chair Dr Sarah Wollaston 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.’

Speaking to the Guardian, Dr Wollaston said: ‘What I feel is now at risk is that the people who are going to be tasked with making a difference won’t have the tools to do the job, and at a time of shrinking health budgets it’s even more difficult for them to narrow health inequality.’

The findings of the committee were welcomed by several bodies including the NHS Confederation, the Royal Society for Public Health, and the Kings Fund. Prof John Middleton, President of the Faculty of Public Health, said the report ‘demonstrates the false economy of cutting local authority public health budgets because of the added pressures this puts on NHS resources.

‘Councils in England have worked extremely hard for many years to maintain the services they offer their communities with reduced funding. Nevertheless, sexual health services, drug treatment clinics and other health services funded by councils have been hit hard by these cuts.’