Public health cuts will lead to more sick people, report warns

More people will become ill as a direct result of the government cutting spending on public health, which will put the NHS under further strain, a parliamentary report on Wednesday warns.

Peers on a House of Lords select committee urged citizens to do more to demonstrate personal responsibility – their “common duty” – to live healthily in order to help preserve the NHS as a tax-funded system that is free at the point of use.

They blame “the short-sightedness of successive governments” for leaving the NHS underfunded, understaffed and woefully unprepared for the huge pressures now bearing down on it.

In a strongly worded report, the House of Lords select committee on the long-term sustainability of the NHS claims that cuts of £531m to public health budgets in England during this parliament could backfire badly. “Continued cuts to the public health budget are not only shortsighted but counterproductive. There is a grave risk that the burden of disease will increase if these cuts continue, a trend which is bound to result in a greater strain on all services,” it says.

Evidence submitted to the inquiry showed that the public health budget for England was cut by £200m in 2015-16 and will shrink by a further £331m by 2021. Services to help people stop smoking and manage their weight are also at risk, the report says. Peers were “totally unconvinced” by the health secretary Jeremy Hunt’s insistence that reducing the budget would not necessarily impede progress on public health.

The committee, which includes both Labour and Conservative former health ministers, recommends ministers launch a nationwide campaign to highlight the risks to health of being overweight.

A failure to stem the rising tide of dangerous obesity risks even more people having a heart attack or stroke or developing cancer or diabetes, “under which the NHS will surely buckle if radical action is not taken”, warned the Royal Society for Public Health.

Full story in The Guardian, 5 April 2017