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Reverse public health budget cuts to stop preventative healthcare 'crisis' warns BMA

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Cuts to public health budgets must be reversed to head off a preventative healthcare “crisis”, doctors’ leaders have warned.

They are calling for the £550m that has been taken out of the sector since 2015-16 to be reinvested in the government’s forthcoming spending plans.

“A lack of joined up thinking and national standards has led to widening health inequalities”

Peter English

More stringent regulation should also be introduced to crack down problems such as excessive drinking, smoking and poor diet to help people stay healthy for longer and ease pressure on health services, they added.

The warning was made in a report published today by the British Medical Association and titled Prevention before cure: prioritising population health (See PDF attached).

As part of its’ new report, the BMA called for a more comprehensive approach to improving public health to be addressed in the Green Paper on preventative healthcare due this year.

The BMA set out a range of actions and recommendations for the government, which doctors’ leaders think should be included in the forthcoming paper to help address public health issues.

“All nurses know it is a false economy to cut funding programmes that prevent ill-health, such as smoking cessation and sexual health clinics”

Patricia Marquis

In the report, the BMA recommended that the government should ensure that “prevention is a priority for the NHS”. It said there should be an increased focus on the role of the health service in “narrowing health inequalities and creating healthier environments”.

As an example, the report suggested that all transport associated with the NHS should meet specific criteria for minimising air pollution and ensuring a smoke-free health service.

In addition, the doctors’ union called on the government to carry out a “comprehensive cross-departmental approach” in addressing factors in society that influence health, by recognising the importance of health in all policy-making.

Today’s recommendations follow a separate paper from the BMA in 2018- Prevention before cure: securing the long-term sustainability of the NHS.

The 2018 report concluded that, as 40% of the uptake of health services in England may be preventable through action on tackling the drivers of ill-health, both the health service and wider society cannot afford to continue to neglect prevention.

Dr Peter English, BMA public health medicine committee chair, said: “Unfortunately, we have seen a systematic pattern in the past decade of all parts of the public health sector being subjected to a funding squeeze that has left preventive health care in crisis.

“A lack of joined up thinking and national standards has led to widening health inequalities,” he said.

“Investment in public health and prevention is vital if we are to move care away closer to home as set out in the NHS long term plan”

Saffron Cordery

Mr English added that the upcoming green paper needs to be seen as an opportunity to “put in place a well-funded, coordinated plan that provides patients with a preventive health system that meets their needs”.

Responding to the BMA report on public health spending Patricia Marquis, director for England at the Royal College of Nursing said: “All nurses, not just those who work in public health, know it is a false economy to cut funding programmes that prevent ill-health, such as smoking cessation and sexual health clinics.”

Also responding to the BMA’s report, deputy chief executive at NHS Providers, Saffron Cordery said: “Investment in public health and prevention is vital if we are to move care away closer to home as set out in the vision of the NHS long term plan.”

patricia marquis

patricia marquis

Source: Gareth Harmer

Patricia Marquis

Ms Cordery also stated that the green paper needs to be a “serious and credible exercise which sets out the path to a recovering public health and support services”.

Nick Ville, director of policy at the NHS Confederation also flagged the NHS Long Term Plan, which “prioritises health and wellbeing services and outlines a vision for the future that needs to be backed”.

Mr Ville warned: “But this will be undermined if the government fails to boost spending on public health services in this autumn’s spending review.”

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