The Department of Health is to press ahead with its planned blanket in-year cut to public health budgets, despite the majority of local authorities backing alternative options.
The announcement yesterday comes almost five months after the chancellor first revealed plans for the £200m cut and two months after a consultation on how the cut should be applied closed.
It means all top-tier local authorities will face a cut of 6.2 per cent to their public health budgets. This is equivalent to a cut of almost 25 per cent to the public health grant for the final quarter of 2015-16.
Nicole Close, chief executive of the Association of Directors of Public Health, said: “It’s going to be hard and in some places it’s going to be very hard.”
She told HSJ’s sister title Local Government Chronicle that a survey of members about how they would deal with the cut had found only a “minority” would be able to use their reserves, meaning “most places” would have to cut services.
She said: “Some will have had the opportunity to recommission contracts, where a contract was due for renewal anyway. Other places it will be the more easy to cut services such as weight management, public mental health and the smaller services like breastfeeding support.”
She said the number of NHS health checks carried out during the rest of the year were also likely to be limited.
Of the 152 local authorities affected, 81 per cent responded to the consultation.
The 6.2 per cent cut was the DH’s preferred option for, as it argued it would be the “simplest and most transparent option to implement”. It was backed by just a quarter of respondents. The most popular option among local authorities was to take a greater proportion of cut from those areas that receive more than their target allocation.
A further 13 local authorities advocated an alternative approach of making a flat cut per head of population, arguing this would be fairer and that under the DH preferred option areas with a high proportion of the population from a black or minority ethnic background would suffer a greater impact.
However, in its consultation response the DH said this would cause disruption and it was confident its preferred option complied with its duties under the Equalities Act 2010.