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LGA: Public health funding boost needed to fuel post-pandemic recovery

Vital public health services such as drug and alcohol treatment, early years and school aged support, weight management and sexual health services need urgent investment in the Spending Review if the country is to fully recover from the effects of the pandemic, councils say today.

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The Local Government Association, which represents councils responsible for public health, says COVID-19 has exposed existing health inequalities which need to be levelled up if we are to protect our communities in future.

The virus has disproportionately impacted certain groups of people, such as those who are overweight or obese, diabetic or with other physical and mental health conditions. It is clear that by intervening earlier and helping to prevent some of these conditions from developing in the first place, more lives could have been saved.

The LGA says next week’s Spending Review is an opportunity to address this divide by reversing the £700 million of public health funding reductions experienced by councils over the past five years.

Every pound invested by government in council-run services such as public health helps to relieve pressure on other services like the NHS and the criminal justice system, while also proving to be three to four times more cost-effective in improving people’s health than money spent in the NHS.

Combined savings from the cost of drug and alcohol treatment alone amount to £2.4 billion every year, leading to savings in crime, health and social care.

Meanwhile, 40 per cent of avoidable deaths are as a result of tobacco, obesity, inactivity and alcohol harm.

Cllr Ian Hudspeth, Chairman of the LGA’s Community Wellbeing Board, said:

“Councils’ public health teams have been leading the local response to coronavirus, all while trying to keep essential services like drug and alcohol treatment running on limited resources.

“We cannot expect public health services to continue to meet rising demand, especially in the wake of the pandemic, without the extra resources to back this up. The Government wants to increase healthy life expectancy by an extra five years by 2035, but we need the preventative measures in place now to make that happen.

“If we are to finally tackle the country’s long-standing health inequalities and create happier, healthier and more resilient communities, we need to start investing in these vital services now to meet the upcoming challenges post-pandemic.”

Notes to Editors

Among the longer-term asks of government which the LGA is calling for are:

  • The creation of a Healthy Communities Fund to support coordinated, community led action and ensure that decisions in areas such as housing, employment and transport planning are all held to account in having a positive impact on health, such as encouraging walking and cycling, reducing carbon emissions and designing cleaner, greener environments.
  • Dedicated prevention funding to allow councils to help prevent people falling into ill-health, such as weight loss classes, the NHS health check, information and advice campaigns. This could also be used by councils to help support each other in finding new and improved ways to reach out to residents, such as expanding home testing and web-based delivery in sexual health and contraception services.
  • Investment in early intervention and support for children’s health, including a government commitment to expand the Healthy Child Programme workforce, which provides families with valuable advice on health, wellbeing and parenting alongside help with screening and immunisation.
  • Government should invest some of the existing alcohol duty revenue to fund alcohol treatment, similar to the approach already used in gambling, where there is a levy on operators used to fund research, education and treatment.