£2m health cut under fire

CONCERNED councillors say proposals which could see a public health budget slashed by £2m will lead to more people becoming ill.

Hartlepool Borough Council is set to take over responsibility for public health services from the NHS next April, as part of a national shake-up.

The town’s public health budget is currently £7.685m but under new proposals that could be slashed to £5.297m within the next few years.

Councillors on the cabinet committee say investment shouldn’t be cut as it leads to problems further down the line.

Meanwhile, health officials in town have stressed they are only indicative figures based on a proposed formula.

But councillors have stressed their concerns.

Independent councillor Paul Thompson said: “If it is confirmed, the size of the cut will mean some really sick people in this town.

“We are just creating a problem further down the line and will end up having to invest more in acute care.”

He stressed the importance of funding public health services, which include smoking cessation services.

Coun Thompson also wanted to see what the impact would be if the budget is cut.

Independent councillor Cath Hill, chairing the meeting as Mayor Stuart Drummond is away, added: “This reinforces my view that the Government knows the price of everything and the value of nothing.

“Most people who have stopped smoking are very grateful for the help they have received from quitting clubs and say they could not have quit without that help.”

Coun Hill said the bill further down the line could be “astronomical”, adding: “It doesn’t seem to make any economic sense.”

The proposed formula, devised by the Advisory Committee on Resource Allocation (ACRA), sees those areas with more deaths of people under the age of 75 getting the larger allocation.

Health chiefs say this method does not cater for need or deprivation in certain areas.

It is estimated that nationally £5.2bn will be spent on delivering the new public health system, of which £2.2bn will be allocated to local authorities to fund their new public health responsibilities.

Louise Wallace, director of public health, said: “These are purely recommendations based on consultation documents, based on historical data using a formula that may or may not be used.

“We need to know what the budget will be nationally.

“The formula is useful but it does not totally reflect need and the difference in local communities.”

The cabinet will be submitting a response before the end of a Government consultation in mid-August.

Cabinet members heard the size of the national budget needs to be known as soon as possible and that funding allocations for 2013-14 and 2014-15 need to be confirmed soon.

Independent councillor John Lauderdale said: “We will be able to see the daily implications in the neighbourhoods where we live.”

Mrs Wallace said work on putting forward an alternative formula method is ongoing and that will then be fed in to the consultation response.

The funding proposals are set out in the Department of Health’s ‘Healthy Lives, Healthy People: Update on public health funding’.