Valuable health intelligence expertise is facing “fragmentation and dissolution”, following a 30 per cent cut in the core funding of public health observatories, MPs have been warned.
The Commons health committee was told last week that the nine observatories in England were already starting to lose skilled staff due to the combined impact of funding cuts and uncertainty over their future.
The health white paper hinted that the intelligence gathering function of the observatories would be integrated into the new body Public Health England, but details remain unclear.
Giving evidence to the first hearing of the committee’s public health inquiry, Faculty of Public Health president Lindsey Davies said the core funding from the Department of Health was down 30 per cent for 2011-12. This was about £1.5m in total, she told the committee.
Professor Davies warned the lower DH funding had been exacerbated by cuts to funding for universities, where some of the observatories were based.
She added that the Association of Public Health Observatories, which previously coordinated the work of the individual observatories, had lost all of its core funding.
Professor Davies said: “There is no APHO to any good effect at the moment”, and that this reduced the ability to disseminate information among the observatories, all of which “had” work on key areas.
She said: “If we are not careful, we’ll end up with a great fragmentation and dissolution of the expertise that is currently really working well in a coordinated way.”
Also giving evidence, David Hunter, director of Durham University’s centre for public policy and health, said: “These analytical skills are scarce and we do risk losing them.
“Certainly from my observatory [in the North East] we have lost staff since the uncertainty. They’ve disappeared… some into academic posts and some to outside the university.”
In a Commons debate on the subject, also held last week, Easington MP Grahame Morris (Labour) said he had been told “valued employees are already being laid off at the North West public health observatory, which is based at Liverpool John Moores University, and there is a similar situation at the North East public health observatory”.