More than £650m a year of public health funding will be withheld from local authorities until after next year’s general election, it has emerged.
While most public health funding was transferred from the NHS to local authorities and Public Health England last year, the budget for children’s public health commissioning for 0-5 year-olds – which covers health visitors – was transferred to NHS England.
The transfer aimed to address concerns that local authorities would not meet the prime minister’s pre-2010 election commitment to boost health visitor numbers by 4,200 – more than doubling the workforce. The target date was later set to April 2015.
Although local authorities were previously promised the budget sometime in the future they were not given a date. The withheld budget would swell their current public health income by some 30%.
They have now been informed that the funds will not be released until October 2015, five months after the May general election.
An email from the Local Government Association, seen by Nursing Times’ sister title Health Service Journal, said this date had been “officially confirmed” by health minister Dan Poulter.
The revelation comes as NHS England struggles to hit a target set by the prime minister to increase health visitor numbers.
“Huge progress has been made to increase numbers of health visitors”
Figures due to be seen by NHS England’s board today show the health service is lagging behind its target for increasing workforce numbers.
The body was 349 health visitors behind its planned trajectory, according to the latest figures recorded for January. The biggest shortfall, of 225, was found in London.
The shortfalls are due to both difficulties recruiting and retaining staff, according to senior NHS England source, who said: “Increasing health visitor numbers is a good thing, but they don’t grow on trees.”
A Department of Health spokesman said: “Huge progress has been made to increase numbers of health visitors.
“As the board papers show, we are within 3% of our current target and have robust plans in place to make sure that we have an additional 4,200 health visitors by April 2015.”