Health: ‘Cuts like £3m public health hit to Leeds will leave councils powerless’

Chancellor George Osborne. Picture by PA Wire.

Chancellor George Osborne. Picture by PA Wire.

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Cutting Leeds City Council’s public health budget by a sizeable £3million months after spending was allocated sets an incredibly dangerous precedent.

Somewhat unsurprisingly councillors at the health scrutiny board meeting I sat in on this week shared similar concerns, but this is not simply a case of political rhetoric on yet more cuts.

There are both immediate financial and health consequences of the reduction in funding, which could hamper existing agreements with partners over public health schemes and go against the Government’s commitment to prevention.

The NHS Five Year Forward View strategy, which was lauded by Whitehall, set preventing ill health through the likes of public health initiatives as a way of saving the NHS billions long term.

The fact that Chancellor George Osborne announced the move as a “non-NHS” cut should not go unnoticed either. It will hit local authorities to the tune of £200m nationally.

He failed to recognise that, had this decision been made as recently as two years ago, it would have been an NHS cut. Until April 2013 public health budgets were managed solely by NHS commissioners.

Public health funding, which covers things like health visitors, school nurses, drug and alcohol services and children’s centres, was issued directly to local councils as a way of making it more efficient.

Arguably a precursor to further devolved powers, handing over public health budgets was hailed at the time but if Osborne continues to give with one hand and take with the other local authorities will be even more powerless than before.

HOW FUNDING CUT PLAYED OUT

Chancellor George Osborne announced the Goverment planned to make a £200million “non-NHS” saving last month.

The cut to public health budgets nationally will hit local authorities, who took on such spending from the NHS in 2013.

The saving represents around 7.4 per cent of the national public health pot, which stood at £2.7billion every year.

Leeds City Council had been told it had £40.5m to spend on public health in 2015/16 but is now expected to save £3m from that.

The likes of Macmillan Cancer Support and the Royal College of Midwives opposed the move.

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