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Health Secretary Matt Hancock has sought to allay fears about the future of councils public health teams after the panel representing the NHS trusts took over some public health services.
But his department is also facing increasing pressure to reveal exactly how much money the public health teams will receive over the next year. Only three weeks until the start of the new financial year.
There is growing concern in the NHS attempted land grab sector, according to a report by NHS providers released last month arguing that the NHS should be mandating key public health services.
However, it is believed that Mr Hancock has privately reassured senior local officials that there is no plan to move public health services to the NHS and expressed his frustration that the NHS has no longer contributed to prevention.
At a meeting of the Local Government Association’s ward council yesterday, Mr. Hancock said that public health directors “were so empowered and needed during the crisis that if we didn’t have them, we’d have to invent them”.
Judith Blake (Lab), Chair of Leeds City Council, told Mr Hancock there was “concern about your deliberations on where local health teams will fit into the integration model outlined in the White Paper on Health and Care”. “Very strong local public health teams will be absolutely critical going forward,” she added.
Mr. Hancock replied, “I totally agree with you, it is important that we get this right.”
“I think they were very, very important, and it’s important to make sure you have that local connection,” he added.
There is growing frustration in this sector that the government is not yet required to disclose public health budgets, amid fears that the lockdown will increase the need for council prevention and health improvement services.
Government officials had told industry figures that an announcement would be made last month alongside the local government’s financial settlement. Since then they have been told repeatedly “in the last few weeks” that an announcement would be made “next week”.
The spending review found that the government plans to freeze public health budgets for the next year, but it is still not known if that freeze includes inflation. In addition, the sector is waiting for news on what portion of a £ 100 million anti-obesity fund will go to individual councils and whether further funding will go to work to combat drug abuse.
Last year the public health grant was £ 3.2 billion. The LGA is calling for it to rise to at least £ 3.9 billion per year in line with the growth in total NHS funding by 2024/25.
A well-placed source told the LGC that there was a “real risk” that if restrictions were lifted, a “public health crisis” would ensue, as celebrations could lead to a rapid rise in sexually transmitted diseases and drug and alcohol abuse.
Pointing out how public health teams had strengthened during the pandemic, Tudor Evans (Lab), chairman of the Plymouth City Council, stated, “Of all the years we’ve had massive public health grant funding would have to increase it would be the year “.
Evans added, “This is without the fact that we have been hollowed out, which means that much of the preventive work we would have done over the past 12 months had to be abandoned while we got into crisis mode. And none of this has been reflected or understood by the government or rewarded in any way by this cat and mouse game about how much funding will be for this year.
“It’s late in the day and we still have no idea what we’re doing about money, which means we can’t use the money we’re going to get as effectively and efficiently as possible. This means that we had to make assumptions about the grant. If there is an adverse grant this year, it means local taxpayers will offset the difference.
Mr Evans argued that his pandemic public health director’s work “should be recognized and rewarded,” along with every other DPH in this country, to keep this show on the streets while the government gives full horlicks of its command power and control approach “.
He said that work is currently “relegated and fired and ignored”, adding, “It’s an appalling way of behaving.”