CMO urges public health action during time of austerity

The NHS and local government must work closely to improve population health during the challenges posed by austerity, England's CMO has said.

Professor Davies urged greater co-operation between local government, the NHS and private industry.
Professor Davies urged greater co-operation between local government, the NHS and private industry.

It is was ‘time to act’ in public health, said England’s new CMO Professor Sally Davies, despite the severe challenges facing the NHS and local authorities.

In her speech to the UK Faculty for Public Health’s annual conference in Birmingham on Monday, she urged greater co-operation between local government, the NHS and private industry.

Professor Davies was appointed as the first woman CMO in March this year.

Addressing the conference, she said it was a ‘fascinating moment for public health’ because of the government’s commitment.

‘Clearly, it is a time of uncertainty. I’m not going to skirt around it,’ she said.

But it is ‘an opportunity at the DoH to get strategic, panoramic vision right so you [the NHS and public health teams] can fill in the details,’ she added.

She said the creation of the national body Public Health England, and incorporating health and wellbeing boards into local authorities, is 'a new way of organising public health'.

But she warned that the NHS cannot walk away from public health just because budgets have been handed to local authorities.

Professor Davies highlighted the ‘immense’ burden of alcohol use as an ongoing problem that must be tackled.

While much attention has been placed on the social impact of misuse, she said, the health impact ‘hasn’t been emphasised enough’.

But she defended the government’s decision not to set a stringent minimum price in England.

Although evidence suggests lowering minimum price is effective at reducing harm, EU competition law and a lack of evidence on unintended consequences mean implementing this policy would be difficult, she said.

Professor Davies also questioned whether it is fair to penalise through price increases the majority of drinkers who drink moderately.

She also reiterated the need for partnership with industry on public health issues. ‘Working with industry is a good start. We can’t solve these problems without industry,’ she said.

Professor Davies also added that she wanted to increase the evidence base for public health, and increase its use at local and national level.

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