Stripping councils of elements of public health would be “a deeply retrograde step”, the County Councils network (CCN) has warned.
NHS England’s Long-Term Plan has proposed elements of public health including sexual health, health visitors and school nurses should be removed from local government only six years after the service was transferred to it.
But a study for the CCN by think tank Shared Intelligence concluded that the government “was right to be ambitious about the potential of local government to take the lead in improving health locally”.
CCN said its findings showed that outcomes had improved in smoking and sexual health services even though spending had fallen.
David Williams (Con), CCN health and social care spokesman, said: “Councils’ financial track record and commissioning expertise has meant we have been able to make the best of a difficult situation that has seen grant funding cut year-on-year and counties receiving the lowest public health funding per year.
“Therefore, there is little logic in taking some elements of public health back from local government. In fact, it would be deeply retrograde step in improving health and care services.
“If the NHS Long-Term Plan is to be a success, government must enhance rather than downgrade local government’s preventative role.”
The report Learning the Lessons from the Transfer of Public Health to Councils public health directors were “most confident about achieving that ambition where public health has an overtly place-based focus”, a view shared by health and wellbeing boards.
“They paint a picture in which public health teams are working across the full range of council functions to improve health and wellbeing by mobilising the wider determinants of health,” it said.
Health stakeholders were less positive, being worried by the impact on public health of cuts in council budgets and “a growing gulf between their organisations and public health teams in local councils”.
Public health services were most effective where directors reported to council chief executives and time had been devoted to fostering links with heath commissioners.