Magazine article Public Finance

Putting the Public into Health

Magazine article Public Finance

Putting the Public into Health

Article excerpt

It has been one year since the transfer of public health responsibilities from the NHS back to where it belongs in local government. This change represents the greatest opportunity to improve the public's health in 40 years. Councils are best placed to decide what's important for the people who live in their communities and, working with key partners, determine how best to direct all available resources to achieve maximum impact in improving the public's health.

This is an important and exciting change to the public health system. Supporting local authorities in this task, has involved the transfer of about £2.7bn of funding from the NHS, 3% of the health budget, in the form of a ring-fenced public health grant.

Good health and wellbeing is not solely the absence of illness. Employment, decent homes, friends, the environment we live in and our own individual choices all play their part.

Councils are perfectly placed to use all available resources to engage on all these fronts because they have the ability to leverage public health benefits from the whole of their spending power and not just the ring-fenced grant In fact, many local authorities are putting additional investment into public health services.

During the past 12 months I have visited local authorities all over the country and have seen at first hand the enthusiasm and hunger to take on the challenge of improving the public's health. Local authorities are passionately and genuinely committed to the health of their communities.

There is no 'one-size-fits-all' approach and I am energised by the diverse evidence-based approaches being taken to improve health - from creating thousands of jobs from Hartlepool in the north to Medway in the south, to free access to swimming and to exercise in places like Blackburn with Darwen.

Although their population profiles and needs are necessarily varied, what these councils all share is a profound understanding that their new duty is to improve the public's health rather than per se provide a public health service, as important as that is. During my meetings with local teams I see extraordinarily able local leadership from officers and politicians, and a focus on assets and possibilities rather than problems and deficits.

We are acutely aware of the huge challenges that local authorities are currently facing. …

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