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North-west councils share public health role

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Nine councils have formed a shared public health service that is thought to be the first of its kind.

The authorities, based in Merseyside and Cheshire, will pay a combined £630,000 per year into the yet-to-be-named organisation. The figure represents less than 1% of each council’s public health budget.

The body aims to save £8.6m over the next three to five years. It will commission services across the area, carry out research for the NHS and health and wellbeing boards, organise shared health protection services and work on behaviour change campaigns. It could also have a lobbying role.

Fiona Johnstone, director of public health at Wirral MBC, said the new organisation could be responsible for commissioning health promotion, sexual health and weight management services across all nine areas, but that individual councils would always be able to opt out of joint commissioning arrangements.

“It will focus on the things that are best done at a bigger level,” she said. “If nine councils each commission, say, a sexual health service in a different way, and one way produces better outcomes, that could be shared.”

“We also want to sharpen up our practices and become more businesslike because, although collaboration sounds lovely, we need to be able to show that it achieves tangible results,” she said. “In future we could sell services to clinical commissioning groups, such as health intelligence and analysis.”  

A briefing document about the plans said the new organisation would also hold the NHS Commissioning Board and Public Health England to account. “It is difficult to see how any individual local authority, other than the very largest, can effectively and robustly engage with the NHSCB and PHE, who will be organised on a bigger footprint, and truly hold them to account unless they carry collective weight,” it said.

One of the councils – it has not yet been decided which – will be a “host organisation” at which a small “core team” will be based. There will also be a full-time director and a network of consultants from all of the authorities, who will be asked to commit a proportion of their working week to the shared service. However, job descriptions have not yet been written for the posts.

In July the nine councils agreed to fund the project for two years, starting in April 2013 when the organisation will be officially launched.

Ms Johnstone said she was not aware of any arrangements on a similar scale elsewhere in the country.

The councils involved are:

  • Wirral BC
  • Cheshire West and Cheshire BC
  • Cheshire East BC
  • Warrington BC
  • Halton BC
  • St Helens MBC
  • Liverpool City Council
  • Sefton MBC
  • Knowsley MBC
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