BMA slams 'weak' politicians over £400m public health cuts

Politicians have been 'slow and weak' on tackling obesity, smoking and binge drinking, the BMA has warned as it hit out at funding cuts that will strip £400m from public health by 2020/21.

A series of reports released by the doctors' union ahead of the June general election warn that public health cuts are a false economy 'undermining a prevention-based approach and costing the NHS more in the long term.

'Many cases of type 2 diabetes are entirely preventable through public health approaches, yet, its prevalence is increasing year on year in the UK. In 2010/11, the cost across the UK was estimated at £8.8 billion, and is predicted to rise to almost double, £15.1 billion by 2035/2036,' the reports warn.

Cuts are undermining patient care and access to key services, the BMA says. It points out that a quarter of local authorities reduced sexual healthcare spending by more than 20% between 2013/14 and 2015/16 - with the majority also reducing smoking cessation spending last year 'despite smoking being the biggest cause of preventable death in every part of England'

Public health

The warnings follow a manifesto of demands published by the BMA, which called for an increase in health spending from the current 9.8% to 10.4% of GDP, in line with similar EU countries. Such an increase would, the BMA said, have provided an extra £10.3bn for the NHS in 2015, enough to fund 10,000 new GPs.

In a recent survey of doctors by the BMA, 62% reported either absolute or relative cuts to funding over the past 12 months.

BMA chair Dr Mark Porter said: 'When it comes to public health, the UK is going backwards. Prevention is better than cure and cuts to public health have a damaging impact on individuals’ health and wellbeing, and end up costing the NHS more in the long term.

'In England, successive governments have failed to deliver a long-term plan to improve public health, and too often evidence-based public health measures have been kicked into the long grass. We need tighter regulation of the food and soft drinks industry, a minimum unit price on alcohol and support for people to quit smoking.

Smoking cessation

'Whoever is in government next must make tackling the crisis in public health a priority. With the NHS at breaking point, and demand on services only set to rise we are facing a ticking time bomb.'

A Conservative party spokeswoman said: 'We are committed to improving the health of the nation - smoking rates are now the lowest in our history, with cancer survival the highest, and we've put in place a childhood obesity plan Public Health England calls the most ambitious in the world.

'But the truth is that this all depends on a strong economy - we spent £3.4bn on public health programmes last year.'

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