EVER since the new Government came to power around eighteen months ago, things have been changing.
What has surprised me is the pace of this change. At a local government level, most of this change has been dictated by the huge funding cuts that are being imposed upon councils.
All local authorities have to completely reshape the way they work in order to continue to deliver services. Ultimately, there are some services that will not survive these changes and sadly, some of these services, particularly in the North-East of England are serving some of the neediest people in society.
It is not just councils that have to adapt to these changes however, every public sector organisation is facing a similar fate.
The health service is no exception and by April next year, the Government will have totally abolished all Primary Care Trusts (PCT) and transferred most of their responsibility for commissioning health services to Clinical Commissioning Groups (CCG) which will be ran by GPs. As part of this change, the public health responsibility of the PCT will be transferred to local authorities.
Councils up and down the country are still working through what this will actually mean, which is proving difficult as the Government have yet to indicate how much of the current budget will come across with the services.
This makes it extremely challenging to be able to properly plan what public health services will be delivered in the future and what may have to be stopped.
As part of this change, areas are required to set up health and wellbeing boards which will be a partnership between the local authority and local health sector commissioners and providers.
The board will have executive responsibility for commissioning public health services in a locality as well as the power to hold to account the local CCG.
In Hartlepool, we have seen this as a fantastic opportunity to really get a grip of this Government policy and use it to make a big difference in the town.
We have already set up a shadow health and wellbeing board, which has met three times now, and have started to pick our way through the national policies and localise what will be important here.
We are already working on a strategy to make a difference to people’s general health in Hartlepool.
For example, our immunisation rates are relatively low, which is putting children’s lives at risk. A targeted strategy is currently being drawn up and a number of local campaigns will follow because, unless there are religious reasons, there is no real excuse for parents not to get their children vaccinated properly.
I am delighted to be able to chair the new board and every cabinet member sits on it.
We are all still getting our heads around the sorts of things that, as councillors, we will soon be directly responsible for.
Things like reducing smoking rates, dealing with the effects of excessive alcohol consumption, campaigns around getting people to live more healthily in order to reduce hospital admissions, raising public awareness of a whole range of different health issues and putting measures in place to address the particular problems we have in Hartlepool.
As I’ve said, it is still unclear what sort of budget will come with the services and critically, whether or not it will be ring-fenced to be spent only on public health and therefore immune to the council cuts.
It could leave elected members with a very difficult situation where that we have to stop providing some services we feel strongly about and that are making a big difference in the community and at the same time having to continue to provide some of the current public health services that we don’t still fully understand or support.
It is a potential minefield but at the same time, it is fantastic opportunity for the Council to work with our health colleagues and really drive the public health agenda and improve the outcomes in Hartlepool.
We are inheriting a range of really good, if not excellent services in the public health arena.
The problem is that the statistics do not reflect the work that is already going on. Hartlepool is an unhealthy place to live whichever set of statistics you look at.
I am relishing the chance to be able to take up the challenge of being able improve people’s chances of being more healthy and living longer.