Councils urged to resist 'rash decisions' on public health
4 January 2013
Local authorities need to hold their nerve and not make snap decisions about public health despite delays in funding allocations, doctors leaders have said.
The Department of Health was first due to announce how much money local authorities would receive for their widening public health responsibilities in September last year. The decision was stalled to before Christmas, and has now been further delayed until later this month.
The DH says this is because it wants to provide ring-fenced funding allocations for an extended period of two years rather than the one year originally planned.
But the announcement has been described as ‘disappointing’ by the BMA, the Faculty of Public Health and the Local Government Association, coming as it does just three months before new health improvement responsibilities are due to be transferred.
BMA public health medicine committee co-chair Penelope Toff warned that the delay was likely to increase strain on councils and public health staff at a critical time.
However, she added there could be a positive outcome if the delay was relatively short and gave councils the confidence to plan for longer-term stability of public health services with their directors of public health.
She said: ‘The DH has already given assurance that the allocation will be uplifted to match current levels of public health spend, so it remains vital that councils don’t make important decisions about the transition of public health staff on the basis of unfounded anxiety.
‘If necessary, they should delay such decisions, rather than risk compromising the future provision of public health services to their populations.’
Dr Toff accepted that some public health staff would feel uncertain about their futures with local authorities and chose to seek employment elsewhere.
She said: ‘It would be a disservice to the public if this skill drain was to be exacerbated by any further delay from DH or rash decisions on the part of receiving councils.’
Public Health England chief executive designate Duncan Selbie said that the local authority funding allocations were expected next week.
He said that there was a ‘very straightforward’ reason for the delay and that health secretary Jeremy Hunt was keen to make a longer-term commitment to local government than originally planned.
Mr Selbie said: ‘The good news here is that there will be more than one year and it will be real-terms growth in each year, ahead of inflation, which is a very powerful message, a positive message to local government and to public health.
‘No other part of the system or any other part of local government is getting real-terms growth in this way.’
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