Below inflation rises for public health ‘effectively a cut’

An extra £1.8million for Essex’s public health department is “effectively a cut” due to inflation, a health chief has said.

Essex County Council’s proportion of funding for 2022/2/23 is to increase from £63.8m to £65.6m – a 2.8 per cent increase but below the current inflation rate of more than five per cent but which is expected to reach to more than seven per cent by spring 2022.

The criticism levelled at the Government from Prof Jim McManus, president of the Association of Directors of Public Health, comes six months after Essex’s public health director described public health in the county as in “horrendous decline” with high rates of obesity, suicide and alcohol misuse.

Prof McManus said that the commitment from directors of public health like Dr Mike Gogarty in Essex to create healthier places and reduce health inequalities “is resolute”, but that the government’s “has waned” despite the deep inequalities exacerbated by the pandemic.

Dr Gogarty has set out that physical activity, weight management, alcohol and loneliness as key aspects that need addressing but also included concerns around substance abuse, sexual health and smoking.

He has been charged with developing strategic plans, identifying the ambitions and outcomes to which Essex County Council is committed for achievement by 2025 as part of its Public Health and Adult Social Care Priorities.

He told the Essex Health and Wellbeing Board in September last year: “Health inequalities are increasing. Things are getting worse in the population we serve.

“I am presiding over a horrendous decline in the health and well-being of certain parts of Essex. It is not something I am proud of and not something I am prepared to accept.”

Prof. McManus said: “Given the ongoing pandemic pressures, service backlogs and increasing need, these allocations are effectively a cut to public health funding. There is an increasing dissonance between the government’s warm words on levelling up health and the investment it is willing to make.

“This tiny increase won’t hold back the tide of rising inflation, rising service pressures and ambitious policy plans.

“The commitment of Directors of Public Health to create healthier places and reduce health inequalities is resolute, but it would seem, despite the deep inequalities exacerbated by the pandemic, the government’s has waned.

“Additional funding for weight management and substance misuse services is positive and will make a difference. However, it is hard not to conclude that this is a missed opportunity to set an ambitious new course for public health funding which has been cut, cut and cut again over the last decade.”

A government spokesperson said: “We are providing more than £3.4billion to local authorities through the Public Health Grant, with Essex receiving a 2.8 per cent rise.”

Piers Meyler

Local Democracy Reporter