Spending on vital local health services used by millions of Britons, including local contact tracing for coronavirus infections, will rise by just 1.4 per cent from next month, sparking warnings from experts that the money is “inadequate”.
The move comes just weeks after the Chancellor allocated an extra £15billion to the centralised test and trace service.
The budgets include spending on children’s health services, health visitors, sexual health, drug and alcohol abuse schemes as well as spending on local outbreak management, contact tracing and responding to coronavirus.
The increase amounts to just £45million extra for 2021-22 and is equivalent to a 24 per cent cut in real terms to local health budgets since 2015, which have dropped from £4.2billion in 2015-16 to £3.3billion now.
It comes amid concerns over NHS budgets for next month, which are still be approved. Labour’s shadow health secretary Jonathan Ashworth has demanded “immediate certainty” be given to hospital bosses.
Professor Maggie Rae, president of the faculty of Public Health warned the cash did not give local public health teams enough to tackle the challenges they face.
During the Covid-19 pandemic local public health teams have worked alongside the national test and trace service to identify people at risk from infection, or spreading the disease and making sure they isolate. Local health teams have regularly out-performed the test and trace service.
Prof Rae said: “Whilst at national level we have seen huge investment in programmes such as NHS Test and Trace, the announcement of this small increase in public health funding for local teams is inadequate at a time when protecting and improving the public’s health has never been so important.
“After years of austerity and budget cuts, populations across the UK were already facing stalling life expectancies and widening health inequalities before Covid-19 hit. The result of the pandemic has been to not only expose these problems, but also to exacerbate them.”
Dr Jeanelle Gruchy, director of public health for Tameside in Greater Manchester and President of the UK Association of Directors of Public Health said local teams would be “dismayed” by the funding.
She said the cash was “too little, too late. After years of cuts, and in the context of Covid-19, we are dismayed that this settlement does not reflect the immense pressures on local public health leadership and services. If we are serious about learning the lessons from Covid-19 then we should be investing substantially in local public health now.”
Local councils, who are responsible for public health budgets, have warned that since 2015 overall budgets have fallen by £700million in real terms up to 2020-21 and the lack of investment is impacting on health inequalities that have come to the fore during the Covid-19 pandemic.
Repeated studies have shown those from ethnic minorities, from poorer areas and in more public facing jobs are more at risk of infection and dying from the disease.
The lack of investment means councils are falling behind increases in spending for the NHS, creating a two tier local health system which is supposed to be moving towards greater integration.
David Finch, senior fellow at the Health Foundation, said: “‘These allocations have come late, just before the start of the next financial year, making planning ahead even more difficult.”
With just 15 days to go before the new financial year, NHS budgets have still not be signed off by The Treasury and NHS England with significant negotiations over funding the costs of responding to coronavirus.
Following concerns some services could be cut, shadow health secretary Jonathan Ashworth has written to health secretary Matt Hancock urging him to give “immediate certainty” to the NHS.
He said: “If this delay continues, it will impact detrimentally on services and patients around the country.
“It is not at all clear why NHS leaders have been left without the certainty they need to plan front-line services and why the department has failed to provide transparent updates on the expected date for publication of the agreed budget.”
He said both direct and indirect costs of the pandemic, which has seen waiting lists rise to record levels, should be full funded.
Health secretary Matt Hancock told the health committee on Tuesday that the issues would be resolved “very shortly.”
Ministers are also being warned failures to sign-off on budgets will impact on social care. A coalition of organisations are calling for an to what they said was “25 years of inaction”.
James Bullion, president of the Association of Directors of Adult Social Services, said: “With little more than two weeks to go until the new financial year, there is still no news of what funding will be available for care and support and for our care workers who have responded so magnificently throughout the coronavirus crisis.
“We were bitterly disappointed that social care was not mentioned in the chancellor’s budget statement. We are calling on the government to put that right and offer real hope of a way forward for more than 10 million of us who draw on social care or work to provide it.
“This government has the chance to end 25 years of indecision over social care and create a historic legacy. We are urging it to seize that chance now.”
Ministers have promised to bring forward a plan for social care funding later this year.