Moving public health into local government from the NHS has boosted performance in key areas of practice, research has found.
A report by the Local Government Association shows a reduction in suicides, smoking and teenage pregnancy since councils took on responsibility for public health in 2013.
There were also improvements in sexual health and a fall in premature deaths from all causes, including cancer and cardiovascular disease.
Last month’s NHS long-term plan said the government and the NHS will consider a “stronger role for the NHS” in commissioning public health services currently the responsibility of councils, such as sexual health, health visitors and school nurses. The proposal prompted widespread criticism from within local government.
The LGA research, using Public Health England’s outcome framework which tracks up to 164 health indicators, found 80% have been level or improving since public health moved to local government. However, a breakdown of improvement, decline and level performance was not provided.
In 2017-18, improvement or level performance was found in 76% of the indicators.
The report states that:
- The conception rate in teenagers has dropped by 23 per cent from 2013/14
- The abortion rate for teenagers is declining. Abortion and maternity rates are at their lowest since records began in the 1960s
- Sexually transmitted infection diagnoses and testing positive rates (both excluding chlamydia) have fallen since 2012.
- Between 2012 and 2017, the prevalence of smoking among adults in England fell from 19.3 per cent to 14.9 per cent.
- Between 2012/13 and 2016/17, suicides steadily decreased in England, with the male suicide rate of 15.5 deaths per 100,000 the lowest since 1981.
- Illegal drug use among adults has fallen from 10.5 per cent in 2005/06, to 8.5 per cent in 2016/17.
However, the research found worsening performance in obesity among 10 and 11-year-olds, deaths from drug misuse and alcohol-related harm.
The public health grant is set to be cut by £531m between 2015/16 and 2019/20.
Ian Hudspeth (Con) said the research shows public health in local government is “effective, accountable, efficient and offers great value for money”.