Public health post-2013 inquiry

1 September 2016

On 1 September 2016, the Health and Social Care Select Committee released a report on its inquiry into public health post-2013. The inquiry was launched in 2015 to consider the delivery of public health functions, the effectiveness of local authorities in making public health improvements, the public health workforce, and public health spending.

The inquiry covered the impact of the 2012 Health and Social Care Act, which made significant changes to health and social care, moved public health into local authorities in England, and established Public Health England.

Report findings

The report found that public health departments had faced real-term budget cuts (including of £200m in 2015) but increased responsibilities, meaning they were 'trying to deliver more with less'. It described budget cuts in public health as a 'false economy as they not only add to the future costs of health and social care but risk widening health inequalities.'

The Committee recommended that the Cabinet take greater responsibility for ensuring health implications were considered across all government policies, to take into account the social, economic, and environmental factors that influence people’s health.

Initial response

The Health Foundation supported the Committee's conclusion that cuts to public health budgets did not represent cost-saving measures, given they likely meant expensive increases in demand for NHS care and on other public services, and decreases in productivity.

The opposition party welcomed the report: Labour MP Sharon Hodgson (Washington and Sunderland West) praised the report in a House of Commons debate in November 2016, saying: 'These cuts are a false economy and are exacerbating the situation within our health services. We are seeing funding directed to our crisis-ridden A&E departments, which are having to crisis-manage failures that could have been addressed a lot sooner [by public health].'

Government response

The government published its response to the inquiry in December 2016. The response agreed with several of the Committee’s recommendations but did not commit to any increases in public health funding nor to protection and maintenance of its funding allocation.

Sylvia Tilford, president of the Institute of Health Promotion and Education, and Michael Watson, Associate Professor in Public Health at Nottingham University, criticised the government response in the British Medical Journal, calling it 'disappointing'.

Source(s)

Health and Social Care Committee.
Public health post-2013 inquiry [webpage].
UK parliament; 2018.

Health Foundation.
Health Foundation response to Health Committee report Public health post-2013
Health Foundation; 2016.

House of Commons.
Self Care Week. 22 November 2016, Volume 617.
Hansard; 2019.

Limb M.
Government’s response to inquiry on public health raises fears of more cuts.
BMJ. 2016; 355: i6853