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Review of public health services prompts fears of widespread cuts
COUNCILS in the region facing “financial meltdown” are reviewing scores of public health services - prompting fears that vital services are being cancelled or scaled back.
Royal College of Nursing's (RCN) Northern Region says services including smoking cessation classes, obesity clinics, school nurses and drug and alcohol treatments are under-threat.
The union fears the reviews will lead to cash-strapped councils either cancelling contracts with NHS providers or abolishing services altogether - before using the money to plug funding gaps elsewhere.
As part of the Government’s Health and Social Care Act 2012, the budget for public health was transferred from the NHS to councils from April this year.
Ministers said the budgets would be protected and ring-fenced, however the union claims this is not happening.
Estephanie Dunn, RCN operational manager, said it was no secret that local authorities were under unprecedented financial strain.
“They are being forced to take incredibly difficult decisions on which services they cut, and which services they downsize.
“But the fact is that this NHS budget was supposed to be protected, and we were given assurances by central government that when these budgets transferred from the NHS to local authorities in April, they would be ring-fenced.
“If these reviews lead to financial savings, we would expect to see that money reinvested in public health services and not used to shore up funding shortfalls elsewhere in the council budget.”
Ms Dunn added: “The sheer scale and nature of these service reviews reveals that this is simply not true.
“NHS public health is now the latest victim of local authorities who are in financial meltdown.”
The RCN report found that:
* Durham County Council launched a three-year public health review last month, starting with a review of drug and alcohol services.
* North Tyneside Council is reviewing all public health contracts. The council said health improvement contracts provided by NHS trusts for services such as adult weight management service and specialist stop smoking service would not be renewed from 2014/15.
* Middlesbrough Council is reviewing a number of services including school nursing, infant feeding and peer support, maternal obesity, and NHS health check programmes.
* Hartlepool Council is currently reviewing the school nurse/healthy child programme.
* Gateshead Council is reviewing several services including stop smoking services, weight management services, school nursing and public mental health.
The RCN is still awaiting responses from several councils, including Darlington, Redcar and Cleveland, Stockton and Sunderland.
Hilary Knox, deputy chief executive of the Association of North East Councils, said local authorities were doing everything they could to increase the amount of money coming to the region for health provision.
She added: “One of the key issues that we constantly highlight is the importance of preventative measures that save money in terms of people needing clinical interventions further down the line.”
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