Public health is good value for money even in straitened times

Investing in the right public health interventions provides an excellent return on investment for councils as well as improving the health and wellbeing of local communities, say the authors of a new set of resources published by The King's Fund.

The resources highlight the evidence for and the economic benefits of effective public health action across councils' work following the transfer of responsibility for public health to local government in April.

The authors have identified nine key areas where health can be improved, including:

  • giving children the best start in life – by investing in voluntary home visits to vulnerable mothers during pregnancy and early childhood, or by offering targeted parenting programmes to improve the quality of parent–child relationships
  • promoting active and safe travel – by  encouraging walking and cycling, introducing 20-mph speed zones in areas with high accident rates and promoting the 'Cycle to Work' scheme
  • helping to ensure warmer and safer homes – for example, by improving insulation in private rented and owner-occupied homes, or by installing safety gates, window restrictors and cupboard locks to protect children under 5.

Other areas where action can be effective include healthy schools and pupils, access to green and open spaces, and building strong and resilient communities.

The report also highlights specific local successes and opportunities, including:

  • Blackburn with Darwen Council have developed a strong, innovative partnership between its public health team and the rest of the authority, with a partnership focused on outcomes, joint planning, health impact assessment, and the backing of the local health and wellbeing board
  •  a review for the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea showed £620 of benefits for every £100 invested in air quality measures such as ensuring that new buildings are air quality neutral, and encouraging the expansion of car clubs
  • Birmingham City Council's assessment of two housing-led programmes indicated that, for a total outlay of £12 million, savings of £24 million a year were made, for example with improvements related to excess cold and reducing falls among older people

Evidence is provided on the effectiveness of different types of action in each area, including the impact on health improvement and the reduction of health inequalities. The resources signpost further case studies, tools and information that will help councils prioritise the most effective interventions across their own work.

David Buck, Senior Fellow, Public Health and Inequalities at The King’s Fund, said: 'Local authorities have a proud history of meeting crucial public health challenges and know better than most that improving health is not just about what happens in the NHS.

'As councils continue to face the most severe financial challenge in their history, there is a compelling business case for putting public health at the top of the local government agenda.

'But it is not always clear where investment will be most effective. In straitened times, we hope these resources will make it easier for local leaders to prioritise those areas where action will have the greatest benefit to communities.'

Notes to editors: 

The King's Fund is an independent charity working to improve health and health care in England. We help to shape policy and practice through research and analysis; develop individuals, teams and organisations; promote understanding of the health and social care system; and bring people together to learn, share knowledge and debate. Our vision is that the best possible care is available to all.

For further information or to request an interview with one of the authors, please contact Daniel Webster on 020 7307 2632 (if out of hours, please call 07584 146 035).

The Fund today publishes resources in the following nine areas: the best start in life; healthy schools and pupils; helping people find good jobs and stay in work; active and safe travel; warmer and safer homes; access to green and open spaces and the role of leisure services; strong communities, wellbeing and resilience; public protection and regulatory services; and health and spatial planning.

A report published on the same day, Improving the public's health, gathers the resources together in a single document; we also have an overview of the main recommended actions.