Call to reverse public health cuts as Hancock pledges focus on prevention

Doctors' leaders have called on the government to reverse public health cuts as health and social care secretary Matt Hancock set out plans for the NHS to 'focus more on prevention'.

NHS (Photo: iStock)
NHS (Photo: iStock)

In a speech on Monday delivered as the DHSC published a policy paper on preventive health, Mr Hancock said: 'We need to focus more on prevention to transform our health and social care system, save money, eliminate waste and make the extra £20.5bn we're putting in go as far as it can.'

The health and social care secretary said the policy paper, Prevention is better than cure, spelled out why 'we need a radical shift in how the NHS sees itself, from a hospital service for the ill to a nationwide service to keep us healthy'.

Doctors said plans to focus on prevention were welcome, but warned they would be undermined by severe cuts to public health funding. Three quarters of GPs who responded to a GPonline poll earlier this year said their practice had seen a reduction in public health funding.

Public health cuts

Analysis by the Health Foundation think tank after the autumn budget announcement said the chancellor's plans would lead to £200m cuts to public health funding on top of £500m cuts since 2014/15.

Mr Hancock said last month that prevention was one of three key priorities he had chosen for the NHS, alongside better technology and supporting the workforce.

BMA public health committee chair Dr Peter English said: 'While the plans outlined in this paper are a welcome step, the government must be realistic about what must be required in order to deliver this.

'There is a need to reverse the cuts to public health budgets as in many areas, public health services do not adequately meet the health needs of the local population. Reductions to services such as smoking cessation and sexual health in some areas are directly contributing to unacceptable variations in the quality and quantity of care available to the population.

Preventive care

'Prevention is a win-win both in the obvious impact it has on the health of the population and its cost effectiveness in reducing future demand on NHS services. The government has a duty to deliver on this.'

NHS Confederation chief executive Niall Dickson said: 'Preventing illness and disease is huge area with enormous potential – much of it extending well beyond the NHS. We need to support interventions that have been shown to work – from drugs that prevent strokes and heart disease, to tackling obesity among children. We need a new mindset which does not necessarily expect payback immediately.

'Of course, we have been here before and the recent record of cutting public health spending must now be reversed. Local government was given responsibility for public health in 2012 and since then has seen swingeing cuts in their budgets, including cuts to the specific public health grant they receive. The new money the government has just allocated to the NHS in England excluded central funds for public health making the percentage seem larger, and suggesting that public health was not a priority.'

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