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FPH urges ministers to foreclose on public health business rates proposals

Funding public health services through a retained business rate will damage the health of millions of people and exacerbate the NHS funding crisis as lifestyle-related diseases soar, public health leaders have warned.

The Faculty of Public Health (FPH) has urged the government to drop proposals for such an approach – consultation on which closed yesterday (26 September 2016).

In its response to the consultation, FPH warns that spending on vital public health functions such as smoking cessation and drug treatment services should not be tied to how well local economies are performing. Perversely, the paper warns, the plans could see councils with the most deprived communities left with the least money to spend on public health and prevention – even though deprivation is a key factor in the level of lifestyle-related diseases.

For example, the five areas outside London likely to lose the most through the proposals have average smoking rates of 20% – compared to 16% for the five areas likely to gain the most.

Calling on the government to continue to ring-fence such spending and to reverse recent cuts to public health budgets, the paper quotes the recent Health Select Committee’s report on how the sector has fared since its move to local government.

The MPs warned: "There is clearly a mismatch between spending levels on public health – which are set to reduce – and the significance attached to prevention in the Five Year Forward View."

FPH President John Middleton said: "Former Prime Minister David Cameron and Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt endorsed the clear statement in NHS England's Five Year Forward View in 2014 that we need to invest more in public health and prevention. Since then, spending has gone backwards and our members tell us of services closing. These proposals would simply make that bad situation worse by moving from a system that distributes funding according to need to one that depends on the fiscal ups and downs experienced by local businesses.

"The price would be paid by some of the most vulnerable in society – and ultimately by taxpayers as the NHS struggles with a rise in diseases related to obesity, smoking and alcohol and drug misuse."

FPH’s submission also warns that the proposals would undermine efforts to commission public health services for longer than 12 months and to achieve the government's ambition of more integrated NHS and local government services.

Written: 27/09/2016 , last modified: 27/10/2016