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Fears over public health services as local authority announces spending cuts of £70m

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Fears have been raised about the fate of public health provision in a county run by a beleaguered council in financial crisis.

Northamptonshire County Council rubberstamped a stark action plan on Thursday to dramatically reduce spending by £60-70m in 2018-19 to try and balance its books.

“We are determined to protect services for the most vulnerable in our communities”

Matt Golby

Areas under threat of cuts include child and adult services, although full details of what will be lost are yet to be announced. The council is also introducing a staff redundancy programme.

The local authority’s £34m public health budget from the government for this financial year is ring-fenced, which means it cannot be spent in any other area.

However, the council has only vowed to retain “statutory” public health services, which could result in provision being stripped back to basics.

Nicola Close, chief executive of the Association of Directors of Public Health, said council bosses would have to make “difficult decisions” on the best way to spend the public health fund to pick up the pieces of provisions lost elsewhere due to the cuts.

“It’s the ripple effect of things,” she said. “On one level, it shouldn’t make much of a difference because the public health money is ring-fenced so it has to be spent on public health services and programmes.

“But on the other level, all the other departments in the council do preventative work that contributes to public health and, of course, they are the things likely to be cut,” said Ms Close. 

“It would be better to have more holes in the road than to have more childhood suffering”

Cheryll Adams

She added: “It will be things like adult social care, they will only be able to do the urgent important work in terms of very vulnerable people instead of some of the more preventative work, which we would expect them to do and similarly in children’s services.

“The more population based work won’t be done, it will be just absolutely the stuff they have to do,” she said. “That’s not to mention the other work done across the county like keeping green spaces open and housing that affect public health.”

Cheryll Adams, founding director of the Institute of Health Visiting, expressed concern about the impact of the Northamptonshire council’s funding crisis on health visitors.   

She said: “As soon as you cut children’s services, you rack up much greater costs down the stream.”

Ms Adams added: “In my view, it would be better to have more holes in the road than to have more childhood suffering.”

“The more population based work won’t be done, it will be just absolutely the stuff they have to do”

Nicola Close

The council has promised to retain statutory sexual health and drugs and alcohol treatment services, as well as continuing to run NHS Health Checks and the National Child Weight Management Programme.

County council leader Matt Golby said: “This will not be an easy process and there will be difficult decisions ahead, but we are determined to protect services for the most vulnerable in our communities while bringing the council’s spending under control.”

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