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MPs warned about public health shortfalls

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Councils’ public health budgets will fall well short of what is required to meet need in their areas, an influential committee of MPs has been told.

The alert has been raised in a raft of written submissions to the communities and local government select committee, chaired by the Labour MP Clive Betts (left). The committee is due tomorrow to hold the first meeting of its inquiry in to councils’ role in health issues. Local authorities are due to inherit the public health role from primary care trusts next April.

A joint submission by the LGA and the Association of Directors of Adult Social Services raises serious concerns about how well the new responsibilty will be resourced. “Councils in some areas have serious and well-founded concerns that the future public health investment in their communities could fall well behind likely need”, it states.

“The LGA calls for a clear commitment from the [Department of Health] for an increase in resources.”

The submission by thinktank the King’s Fund also warns of funding problems. “There is no guarantee that the existing overall pot of £2 billion is adequate to deliver the specific services required and broader responsibilities designated to public health,” it states.

“The [DH] has not to our knowledge made any estimate of how much in total should be spent on public health…However, it has prescribed some mandatory functions to the sector.”

“Arguably, there should be a bottom up assessment of how much a specified service should cost and it should then be resourced accordingly.”

Westminster City Council also outlined its worries to the committee. The central London borough predicts its public health funding will fall by 57%.  

“This would have a severe impact on our ability to deliver good public health outcomes including restricting our ability to undertake preventative policies and projects which could reduce future NHS and local authority costs”, the council said in its submission.

Readiness for the public health transfer

Fears about councils’ readiness to take on the public health role have also emerged in several submissions to the inquiry.

“In some areas, county councils seem well prepared, whereas in others – especially metropolitan councils and across London, there are still substantial problems”, the UK Faculty of Public Health claimed in its statement.

Problems were linked to staff transfers, difficulties with contracts, information sharing and practical considerations such as accommodation and IT, it added.

Kent CC also warned about information-sharing problems.

“A crucial outstanding issue relates to…the ability to share non-patient specific information between the NHS and local authorities”, it said. “If this is not resolved, the effective delivery of transformative services between social care, public health and health will be critically compromised.”

However, the LGA’s response said preparations for the transfer were “going well in the majority of places”.

Meanwhile the King’s Fund warned that it was not clear who will be accountable public health failures

“Whilst there are plans for sector-led improvement, accountability for poor performance - for instance on high level outcomes such as life expectancy - remains worryingly weak, and constitutes one of the greatest risks to the success of the reforms”, it said

 

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