Public health: The first 100 days of the new government

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Part of Health and social care under the new government

Public health features prominently in the NHS five year forward view which argues that the population’s health, the sustainability of the NHS and the country’s economic prosperity are all dependent on a ‘radical upgrade’ of prevention.

However, to date this narrative has been accompanied by little in the way of tangible policy initiatives, with the government’s only notable intervention being to rule out a tax on sugar when this was suggested by a junior health minister.

Meanwhile, the Chancellor’s decision to cut local authority public health budgets by £200 million sends a worrying signal that public health funding – which lies outside the NHS ring-fence – may be vulnerable to further cuts. The Spending Review will provide a litmus test of whether the government is serious about its commitment to prevention.

The new government has identified tackling obesity and reducing diabetes as key priorities, with a national childhood obesity strategy due before the end of the year. Sugar consumption and its health consequences have also been a focus for attention, with Public Health England calling on the public to reduce children’s consumption of sugary drinks following a report from the Scientific Advisory Committee on Nutrition.

Public Health England is carrying out an evidence review and will advise the government on actions for reducing sugar consumption, which will inform its wider obesity and diabetes strategy. Public Health England will publish the results of the review later in the summer. This has prompted a public debate about sugar consumption and calls to reduce the amount of sugar in soft drinks. When the junior health minister, George Freeman MP, responded by suggesting he was in favour of a tax on sugar, this was swiftly ruled out by the Prime Minister’s Office.

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At the beginning of June, the Chancellor announced that this year’s public health grant to local authorities would be cut by £200 million, as part of a £3 billion package of savings across government to be delivered this year. Funding for commissioning public health services for children aged 0-5 is due to be transferred to local authorities in October 2015, forming part of the budget that will be cut.

Towards the end of July the government launched a consultation into how individual local authorities' contributions to the £200 million reduction should be calculated. It presents four options, with the government favouring a reduction in all allocations by a flat rate of 6.2 per cent on the basis that this will be the easiest to implement.

The consultation is due to close at the end of August.

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