The Department of Health has said it will be “open” to local authorities to make financial savings from health visitor budgets when a total of £200m public health cuts are delivered to councils early next year, as long as they meet their statutory duties.
Fears were raised earlier this month that health visitor jobs could be under threat if local councils were allowed to raid the extra money they will receive when they take over commissioning of nought to five services from NHS England.
Leading figures from the profession said they were “gravely concerned” the potential benefits from a recent boost to the workforce – almost 4,200 extra health visitors since 2010 – could be lost if health visiting budgets came under fire.
“It will be open to local authorities to make savings from the funds that transfer in October”
Department of Health
The public health grant for 2015-16 is £2.8bn, with the first instalment paid by the DH to councils in April. A total extra £430m will be added in October when health visiting commissioning transfers.
In its consultation published today on how to implement the £200m in-year cuts in January, the DH said: “It will be open to local authorities to make savings from the funds that transfer in October as well as from the original April 2015 allocation as long as they comply with regulations and the other statutory requirements that apply to them.”
The Faculty of Public Health said it was concerned this meant the health visiting budget would be “especially vulnerable” to cuts.
FPH vice president for policy Professor Simon Capewell said: “These cuts cannot be managed in a fair way. In particular, they will hit vital services where contracts have not yet been signed during the current financial year, and many already have been.
“Our members are concerned that when the NHS budget for 0-5 year-olds moves to local authorities in October, it will be especially vulnerable to such cuts.”
A spokesman for the Association for Directors of Public Health acknowledged that in “some” cases, councils might implement cuts to health visitors.
He said: “Directors of public health will need maximum flexibility in order to make these cuts to their budgets. In some cases this may mean cuts to health visitors.”
The government consultation document sets out a range of options on how the DH could allocate the public health cuts across different councils.
“We are concerned [the budget for 0 - 5 services] will be especially vulnerable to such cuts”
The DH said its preferred option is to apply the savings evenly and reduce each local authority’s public health budget by 6.2%.
Other options include applying a larger cut to local councils that have unspent financial reserves from the previous year. Another is to reduce each budget by 6.2% except for those local authorities that can show this would result in “particular hardship”.
However, the DH warned: “The total savings required under all options would remain at £200 million - if any local authorities are eventually asked to save less than 6.2% it follows that others would be required to save more.”
The consultation begins today and closes in four weeks.