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Government rejects key public health recommendations

Warnings that further public health cuts would be a false economy have been rejected by the Department of Health (DH) in its response to a report from the Health Select Committee.

The September report warned that public health services since 2012 have suffered from ongoing spending cuts and a failure to embed public health across national policy.

In its response, the DH insisted it “fully appreciated the importance of protecting and improving public health”. However, it refused to rule out further cuts, which are due to reduce the public health budget from £3.47bn to under £3bn by 2021.

The department argued that by “taking action to reduce the deficit”, it was protecting “the long-term health” of the economy and public services.

Instead of agreeing to protect public health budgets, the DH responded: “The duty on local authorities (LAs) to improve the public’s health involves more than delivering a set of narrowly-defined services from a ring-fenced grant.”

Harnessing policy across the whole of the public sector for “the good of the public’s health” could deliver better outcomes without extra costs, it said.

However, the DH also rejected the committee’s suggestion of establishing a Cabinet Office minister with specific responsibility for embedding public health in national policy.

It stated that the remit of the Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Public Health and Innovation included encouraging public health in all areas of policy, and creating a second minister would generate unnecessary confusion.

Responding to the committee’s argument that it needed to set clear milestones for what it expected public health spending to achieve, the DH said it already had, pointing to its heavily criticised childhood obesity strategy as an example.

It also rejected the call for national benchmarking strategies for local authorities’ public health functions, replying that councils should “define and account for their own ambitions”.

(Image c. Chris Radburn from PA Wire)

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