Two leading health think tanks have called for £1bn a year to be invested back into public health and for the government to protect the sector from further cuts in funding.
The Health Foundation and The King’s Fund said the government cannot continue to put off decisions on public health funding and that it must signal its intention to restore previous reductions made.
“The public health grant is not a nice-to-have”
They say the government must make a “clear and urgent” commitment to restoring £1bn of real-terms per head cuts to the public health grant.
Cuts have had a “major impact” on local services such as sexual health clinics, stop smoking support and children’s health visitors, the think tanks said.
According to their analysis, the current £3.1bn annual allocation for public health is £850m lower in real-terms than in 2015-16.
They warned that a predicted delay to the next government spending review could result in the grant being cut by a further £50m in real-terms in 2020-21.
With population growth factored in, £1bn would be needed to restore funding to 2015-16 levels, they said.
Senior fellow at the Health Foundation, David Finch, highlighted how the services delivered by the public health grant were essential to the aims laid out in the NHS Long Term Plan.
“There has been a commitment by the government to preventing ill health and tackling health inequalities,” he said. ”The sustained cuts to the public health grant clearly run counter to these aims.
“Our health, social care and public health systems sink or swim together”
“The public health grant is not a nice-to-have. Without urgent reinvestment, we will continue to see a direct impact on people’s long-term health as well as increasing pressure on wider public services including the NHS, which are already under considerable strain,” added Mr Finch.
“The long-term consequences of further eroding people’s health are likely to prove far more costly than the short term savings,” he warned.
The Richmond Group of charities, which is made up of 14 leading health and social care organisations in the voluntary sector, have also supported the call to reverse public health funding cuts.
Chair of the group, Chris Askew, said: “The government must take decisive action and deliver an ambitious funding package that sets our nation’s health on the right path.
“Our health, social care and public health systems sink or swim together- unless they are all funded appropriately, they risk collapsing altogether,” he said.
“That is why we are supporting this call for investment - we cannot afford not to,” he said.