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Public Health Grants

Volume 605: debated on Tuesday 9 February 2016

1. What steps his Department has taken to ensure that public health grants are spent only on public health responsibilities. (903534)

The local authority public health grant is ring-fenced and must be spent in line with published grant conditions set by the Government. Local authority chief executives and directors of public health are required to certify that grant spend is in line with these conditions. In addition, Public Health England further reviews spending information and local authority spend against the grant is subject to external audit.

In 2014-15, my city of Plymouth received £47 per head. Portsmouth, which is statistically healthier, received £77 and Kensington and Chelsea got £136. I absolutely understand that this is a legacy issue with the funding formula, and the Government are committed to dealing with it, but I cannot stress enough how important it is that we speed this up. How does the Department plan to achieve this? The current situation is grossly unfair to my constituents.

I applaud my hon. Friend for being a champion of public health in his community. We have had several conversations on this issue. As he says, there are historical differences, of which I am conscious, in the levels of local public health spending. They mostly arise from historical primary care trust spending priorities. We have made some progress in addressing the matter, but, as regards future allocations, we are considering a full range of factors, including the impact on inequalities and existing services. Those will be announced shortly. As I have told him before, the chief executive of Public Health England is happy to talk to him about the specific challenges facing his community, and that offer remains open.

The NHS “Five Year Forward View” states that

“the future health of millions of children, the sustainability of the NHS, and the economic prosperity of Britain all now depend on a radical upgrade in prevention and public health.”

How will the in-year cuts this year and the future 4% real cuts in public health help to achieve that objective?

The challenge of being serious about prevention is one for the entire health and social care system. We acknowledge that, like many parts of government, public health grants have had to absorb some of the fiscal challenge. We are dealing with the problems we inherited at the beginning of the coalition Government. Despite that, local authorities will receive £16 billion in public health grants alone over the spending review period, but that is not the only way we invest in prevention. On my many visits, I have seen some of the great work being done to work with local authorities, and I am confident of the great things they can do with that money.

19. Given the report by the Crisp commission, released in the last few days, on mental health provision and treatments, can the Minister provide any assurance about the equitable treatment of physical and mental health to ensure an equal allocation of funds? (903552)

There is rightly a great deal of attention on this area—more tier 4 beds have been commissioned, for example—but I want to stress what is being done in my area of public health. Right at the heart of our new tobacco strategy, which we are beginning to work on, is a concern for the inequity facing people suffering from mental ill health in terms of smoking levels. I can reassure the hon. Lady that across the piece we are considering how we can do more for those who suffer with mental health problems.

Access to contraception is not only a fundamental right but a cost-effective public health intervention—every £1 spent on contraception saves the NHS £11—yet the Government are presiding over savage cuts to public health services. It is predicted that £40 million will be cut from sexual health services this financial year alone. Is that what the Minister means when she says the Government are serious about prevention? Why does she not finally admit that these cuts not only make no financial sense but could put the nation’s health at risk?

I reject that analysis. It is for local authorities to take decisions on local public health spending, but they are mandated by legislation to commission open-access sexual health services that meet the needs of their local population, and in fact there is a great deal of innovation around the country in how people are doing that. For example, in Leeds, they are redesigning services to enable people to access sexual health. [Interruption.] The shadow Minister laughs, but the question of how much they would have invested in the NHS goes unanswered by the Opposition—a question that was never answered at the general election. On prevention, as I have said, the public health grant is not everything. In the next financial year alone, for example, the Department will spend £320 million on vaccines. We have introduced two world firsts: the child flu programme and the meningitis B immunisation programme. Right across the piece, this Government are investing in prevention and in our NHS.