THE BLOG

The Promised Radical Upgrade In Public Health Is Not Being Achieved

18/04/2017 12:15

A few weeks ago, NHS England published their Five Year Forward View Refresh, and it laid bare the challenges facing our health services after the many years of neglect and underinvestment by the Tories. It is safe to say that public health did not escape unscathed.

When the Five Year Forward View was published in 2014, one of its key promises was that we needed a radical upgrade in prevention and public health to help achieve a healthier society, but also a healthier, more sustainable NHS. It argued that a lack of action would see a sharp rise in avoidable illnesses burdening our NHS.

But, sadly, when reading the Refresh document, it was clear that public health failed to feature as a prominent pillar of the updated vision; that is until you reached the chapter on Funding and Efficiency, where public health and prevention is buried deep inside the NHS' 10 Point Efficiency Plan.

The measures announced are to be welcomed, but diminishing the future of public health from a promised radical upgrade to a mere cost-saving mechanism just proves this Tory Government's approach to public health is failing.

However, we cannot be too surprised with public health dropping down the NHS' list of priorities, when this last winter saw unprecedented challenges facing our health services which has now continued into the spring and saw the NHS fire-fighting to manage its day-to-day operation, detracting from the plans to work towards the radical upgrade in prevention we were promised.

This is not helped either by the deep cuts announced in 2015, which saw £200 million slashed from public health budgets across the country, with a further 3.9% cut each year of this Parliament - which we are now in the third year of. This doesn't include the worries that still remain about the future of public health financing post-2019 and what impact there will be on public health funding when business rates are fully devolved to local councils.

Public health is crucial to a sustainable NHS - preventing health issues at source will mean savings further down stream in our health services - but also prevention is critical to working towards our vision of a healthier society. But, diminishing public health to just a cost-saving exercise fails to realise the true nature of prevention which is to ensure people live healthier lives and have a better quality of life. The latest update by the NHS has all but abandoned that dream due to the failure of ministers to come to terms with their actions.

It is time Health Ministers rethought their approach to public health instead of continuing with their flawed philosophy that nothing will go wrong if you cut public health budgets when it is clear that the need has not diminished.

This false economy cannot continue as it is, and we need action to solve this matter before a crisis emerges in public health, which will only exacerbate the problems the wider NHS and health services are facing due to the financial constraints. But, we must firstly address the major problems the NHS is facing, so that it can be placed on surer footing, then we need to get on with the task of properly upgrading our approach to public health.

Labour's vision is to ensure that public health remains a priority for the future of our country, not only for the health of our nation but the health of our NHS too; and every step of the way, we will hold the Government to account to not squander their opportunities to achieve this vision.

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