Many local authorities will inherit a “substantial” hole in their public health budgets when they take over responsibility for the role next year, research by the British Medical Association has revealed.

Stephen Watkins, a member of both the BMA’s council and its public health committee, has found that 28 out of 30 authorities surveyed had funding gaps running to millions of pounds.

The gaps equate to the difference between authorities’ proposed public health budgets and the collective value of contracts they are due to inherit from primary care trusts in April 2013.

More than half of the 30 authorities surveyed described the divide as a major problem, Dr Watkins - also Stockport’s director of public health – told HSJ’s sister title Local Government Chronicle.

“For some it’s a relatively small matter of a £100,000 or £150,000 gap, which can probably be overcome,” Dr Watkins said.

“But for others it’s a major problem, sometimes in the region of millions of pounds. More than half of the 28 councils fall into the category of it being a substantial problem.”

Stockport’s final funding gap figure was estimated to be between £1m and £2.5m, against a proposed public health budget of £10m, Dr Watkins said.

“Why should councils have to top it up from their cash-limited funds when they were told they were getting a fully funded transfer?” he asked.

Evidence of the funding divides has emerged as PCTs identify errors and underestimates in how councils’ proposed public health budgets were calculated. All budgets were based on PCTs’ estimates of what they spent on public health services in 2010-11.

In some cases the gap has come about because PCTs have increased their public health spending since 2010-11. Other complications have arisen because of the way in which PCTs outsource community health services.