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Public health cuts likely to cost wider economy £1.6bn in the long term

Cuts to public health services are “short-sighted,” and represent a false economy, a report published by the British Medical Journal (BMJ) has found.

It also found that the £200m cuts to public health funding in the UK would actually cost eight times more than that in the long run – a total of £1.6bn.

This is not the first time the government has been accused of public health cuts being a false economy, as the Health Select Committee warned that government cuts would cost much more in the long run – a message that was rejected by the Department of Health (DH).

The report looked into the effects of constant cuts to public health funds and found that money was only been saved in the short-term by the cuts, as the authors said that for every £1 put into public health yielded £14 worth of savings into the wider health and social care economy.

The study, published in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health, compiled evidence from 29 studies on local public health interventions such as supervised injection facilities, fall prevention programmes, and smoking cessation services and found that the average saving for investment in these services was £4 for every £1 invested.

When studying the effect of national public health interventions like vaccination programmes, needle exchange programmes and road safety campaigns the savings were even bigger, as £27 were saved per every £1.

Researchers also noted considerable short-term benefit of some schemes, such as fall prevention programmes where savings could be made within six to 12 months.

The study authors wrote: “The UK government’s efficiency savings thus represent a false economy which will generate many billions of additional future costs to the ailing NHS and wider UK economy.

“The recent UK increases in (avoidable) teen pregnancies, sexually transmitted infections, homelessness and suicides are thus predictable and worrying. Do they represent harbingers of worse to come?”

Cllr Linda Thomas, vice chair of the LGA’s Community Wellbeing Board, said that intervention in issues like teenage pregnancy, excessive alcohol consumption, physical inactivity, sexually transmitted infections and substance misuse could not be seen as an “added extra” for health budgets.

“Reductions in councils’ public health grants of more than £530m by the end of the decade will no doubt impact on councils’ ability to continue this good work,” she argued. “To take vital money away from the services which can be used to prevent illness and the need for treatment later down the line and ease the pressure on the NHS is counter-productive.

“We need to move away from a focus on treating sickness to actively promoting health. Investing in prevention ultimately saves money for other parts of the public sector by reducing demand for hospital, health and social care services and ultimately improves the public’s health.”

A Department of Health spokesperson added: “This government has a strong track record on public health— cancer survival is at a record high whilst smoking and teenage pregnancy rates are at an all-time low.  

 “Over the course of this Parliament we will invest more than £16bn in local government public health services, in addition to what the NHS continues to spend on vaccinations, screening and the world's first national diabetes prevention programme.

“We have shown that we are willing to take tough action to protect the public's health—introducing standardised packaging of cigarettes, a Soft Drinks Industry Levy and launching a world leading childhood obesity plan.”

PHE introduces sugar restrictions to tackle obesity         

In an effort to improve the state of public health, Public Health England (PHE) today published new technical guidelines that aimed to remove around 200,000 tonnes of sugar from the UK market per year by 2020.

The guidelines will put limits on the amount of sugar that can be put into a number of products including breakfast cereals, yogurts, biscuits and cakes.

This also comes as a response to news this week from the Health Select Committee that “robust action” was needed to tackle the growing issue of child obesity in the UK.

PHE also recommended three approaches for the food industry to lower its sugar content in products, including reformulating food items, reducing portion sizes and shifting consumers towards lower or no added sugar options.

Duncan Selbie, chief executive of PHE, said: “The UK has one of the most innovative food sectors in the world and it’s in everyone’s best interests to ensure it remains a dynamic and thriving sector of our economy.

“The scale of our ambition to reduce sugar is unrivalled anywhere in the world, which means the UK food industry has a unique opportunity to innovate and show the rest of the world how it can be done. I believe reducing sugar in the nation’s diet will be good for health and ultimately good for UK food business.

“We can’t duck the fact a third of children are leaving primary school overweight or obese and obesity generally is having a profound effect, not just on the costs for the health service, but on the overall health of the nation. Our economy is affected as obesity can lead to long-term health problems that result in time off work.”

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