The public health white paper is something of a an anticlimax. Government plans for improving the country’s wellbeing may well prove to be significant, but we will have to wait until well into 2011 to find out.
Public health struggles to get airtime – away from shallow debates over school dinners – and this was not the definitive statement of a new beginning that many were hoping would give the subject a higher profile.
The white paper is twice the length of Liberating the NHS, but carries even less detail and little that has not already been trailed. It is a victim of the government’s over-stuffed and overly ambitious timetable, which has resulted in a welter of documents with an unsettling imbalance between questions and answers. Consultation is a fine principle, but the current process is – unintentionally – sowing confusion.
The greatest unanswered question appears to be how the ringfenced public health funds will be divided between the new public health service and local authorities. Local government believes it will control around 50 per cent of the ringfenced £4bn public health budget. Audit Commission research suggests the functions to be inherited by Public Health England will command more than half of the funds. Expect a row.
All this said, the renewed commitment to an evidence based approach is welcome, as is the absence of any plans to launch a rebranded “Department of Public Health” – a Conservative pre-election pledge.