• Says local public health budgets uplift in 2019-20 is expected to be 1pc real terms
  • Says the modest increase sends a “powerful message” but “you wouldn’t write home” about it

The public health grant is due to increase by 1 per cent in real terms next year, the Public Health England chief executive has said, adding that it should spell the end of cuts to the budget.

Duncan Selbie told HSJ the Treasury had promised growth of “inflation plus 1 per cent” for local government public health budgets. At the time of the spending review the Treasury said only that it would be “at least a flat real [terms] increase” to be confirmed “in due course”. 

Mr Selbie said of the modest real terms growth “you wouldn’t write home” about it, but that it was a “powerful message” now was the time to stop cutting public health spending.

The increase will only “take us to the cash position of 2018-19”, recovering the £85m cut in the current financial year, he said.

He will work with the Department of Health and Social Care, local government and the NHS to work to convince the Treasury that this year’s uplift is a “down payment” on future increases, he said.

“You wouldn’t write home,” Mr Selbie said of the spending increase in an interview with HSJ. But it is “a powerful message, well understood by the secretary of state [for health and social care], that it’s time to stop the cuts to the public health services. That’s had its time.”

In relation to new government spending in other areas, he said: “I’m glad to see more investment in education, more investment in criminal justice, more investment in transport infrastructure. All that adds up to creating an environment within [which] people can thrive.”

He added: “Small increases can go a very long way, but I’m interested in the totality of the spend. I’m interested in the totality of local government spend and the totality of NHS spend, and about how that’s working for local people. The public health grant of itself is not going to get clean air and it’s not going to solve the mental health dilemmas of young people, and so on.”

In November, Mr Selbie said it was “inconceivable” public health spending would be cut again in the light of the expectation the then forthcoming NHS long-term plan would focus so heavily on prevention.

The public health budget had seen £850m real-term cuts between 2015-16 and 2019-20. The increase announced in the 5 September spending review is far short of the £1bn the Health Foundation said in June was needed to replace lost funding.