Funding for public health services like sexual health clinics and mother and baby support has been cut by £85m in an announcement “sneaked out” by ministers on the last day of the parliamentary term.
The slashing of grants for councils will affect community and prevention services also including ‘stop smoking’ clinics, schemes to tackle obesity, and drug and alcohol misuse services for children and young people.
The grants are being cut by nearly £2 per person to £3.134bn - a 3.3% fall - in just one year, health minister Steve Brine confirmed on Thursday.
The news came the same day it was revealed an estimated 597 homeless people died in 2017, a massive 24% increase over the last five years.
And it came in an avalanche of 12 written ministerial statements published by the Government on the last day of the parliamentary term, when most MPs have already returned to their constituencies, prompting accusations that the government was being “cowardly”.
Labour said the cuts were “short sighted” and would leave more people who should have been supported seriously ill, “placing wider significant pressures on the NHS”.
Shadow health and social care secretary Jonathan Ashworth said: “It’s outrageous the Government have tried to sneak out further devastating cuts to local specialist public health services without debate on the day Parliament rises for the Christmas break.
“The clearest evidence yet that ministerial promises on the NHS are entirely hollow.”
“Only a few weeks ago the secretary of state (for health, Matt Hancock) told us prevention was his priority and yet today he is cutting specialist public health services by a further £85m.
“It’s the clearest evidence yet that ministerial promises on the NHS are entirely hollow.”
Ashworth said: “At some point the Government will publish the NHS plan. A clear test of that plan is whether it reverses these cuts and fully funds community public health services as Labour has promised.”
Labour MP Wes Streeting tweeted: “If you think that by issuing a cowardly written statement just before recess that we haven’t noticed you’ve cut the public health budget, @MattHancock and @JBrokenshire, you’ve got another thing coming. This is short-sighted and irresponsible. We’ll pick this up in January.”
The Health Foundation charity said the move would “heap more pressure” on councils already struggling with “significant budget cuts”.
David Finch, senior policy fellow at the Health Foundation, said: “Increasing spending for the NHS while cutting funding for services that impact health is a false economy.
“If the government is serious about delivering on its prevention vision, this will have to be matched with adequate funding for the things that maintain and improve people’s health – not just the health care services that treat people when they become unwell.
“Rather than implementing further cuts, we calculate an additional £3bn a year is required to reverse the impact of government cuts to the public health grant and ensure that it is re-allocated according to need.”
In a written ministerial statement, Brine said: “We will be spending in excess of £16bn on public health over the five years of the 2015 spending review until 2020, in addition to what the NHS spends on preventative interventions such as immunisation and screening.
“The 2019-20 grant will continue to be subject to conditions, including a ring-fence requiring local authorities to use the grant exclusively for public health activity.”