'Life expectancy in Sheffield will fall' if health funding cuts continue

Sheffield’s director of public health has predicted that life expectancy in Sheffield will be lower for future generations if the Government continues with its trend of slashing public health funding.

Friday, 15th October 2021, 1:08 am

Public health funding per head in Sheffield has been cut by a quarter over six years in real terms, data from independent charity the Health Foundation has revealed.

The data shows Sheffield was allocated £34.1 million through the public health grant for 2021-22 – equating to around £63 for every resident under the age of 75. This is 24 per cent less than in 2015-16, when it received £83 per head in real terms.

This central funding is given to local authorities to deliver vital preventative and treatment services, such as help to stop smoking, drug and alcohol treatment, children’s health services, sexual health clinics and volunteer community services.

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Services to help smokers quit are among those hit by cuts to public health funding

Greg Fell, Sheffield’s director of public health, said that the cuts created a ‘false economy’ which adds to the strain placed on other areas of healthcare and contributes to a trend which is likely to see future generations of Sheffielders live shorter lives than people do now.

Mr Fell said: “Public health grant funding from central Government is substantially smaller than it used to be. And there is nowhere to go. When the central government cuts funding to local government, the local government has other choice than to cut services.

“It has been cut across the board fairly evenly. No aspect of public health has been cut more severely than any other. But everybody who works in these services grumbles about the cuts and they are right to grumble about them.

"It creates a false economy. Cutting preventative services, like many of the services funded by the public health grant, just steps up demand somewhere else down the line.

Greg Fell, Sheffield's director for public health.

"For example, we know that the biggest issue we have around drug-related deaths is access to methodone maintenance for people addicted to heroin.

"If you make cuts to drug and alcohol treatment services then there is going to be more demand on police, or on primary care and hospitals.

"If you cut funding to volunteer community organisations there will be more demand on primary care and social care. It won’t work.”

This week, Health Secretary Sajid Javid announced that £250m would be made available to GP surgeries to help them make more appointments. But when asked whether the Government was likely to provide more money to reverse public health funding cuts, Mr Fell was pessimistic.

Substance misuse services, like the one on Fitzwilliam Street in Sheffield, have been hit by cuts by central Government.

"The cuts are flatlining now. The cuts have now been made and I hope there are no more substantial ones to come,” he said. “But with inflation going up, even if the funding we gets stays the same from now, it continues to go down in real terms.

“We will just have to continue with small resources, but as the public health cuts are made around the country we are seeing a very worrying trend.

"Life expectancy is starting to decline in some areas of the country. That is massive news and it is not good. I don’t know if Sheffield is there yet, but the way things are going it will and future generations will not live as long as people do at the moment.”

By 2020, the average life expectancy of a person in Yorkshire and the Humber had declined by 3.7 months for men and 1.9 months for women from the level it was at in 2017.

According to Office of National Stastics figures, life expectancy in Yorkshire rose between 2003 and 2019, with the decline only beginning recently.

During the 2015-16 to 2021-22 period, when the cuts to public health funding have been inflicted on Sheffield, a similar cut of 24 per cent per capita to public health grants was made across England. The Health Foundation say this is equivalent to a reduction of £1 billion nationwide in real terms.

The under-75 population is used for these calculations as it is seen as a better representation of the people likely to be using these services.

The Association of Directors of Public Health has written an open letter, backed by more than 50 charities and organisations, saying there “could not be a more prudent time” to increase local public health funding.

Jim McManus, ADPH interim president, said: “Investing in local public health is critical to levelling up.

“The costs of not doing so are clear – health and wellbeing will worsen further, health inequalities will grow and too much potential in our society and economy will remain untapped.”

Analysis of national figures by the Health Foundation found funding for stop smoking services and tobacco control has been cut by about a third – the greatest real-terms fall.

Funding for drug and alcohol services has been cut 17 per cent in real terms, while sexual health services have seen a real-terms fall of 14 per cent, with only child obesity services seeing an increase.

It found that more deprived areas have disproportionately borne the brunt of the cut, despite people in these areas generally having poorer health.

Jo Bibby, director of health at the Health Foundation, said: “As the country emerges from the biggest health crisis it has ever faced, the role of public health is as important as it’s ever been.

“While there is a clear need for further investment in the NHS, to aid recovery from the pandemic and tackle the backlog in care, this must not be at the expense of funding for public health.”

A Department of Health and Social Care spokesman said: “The Government is supporting directors of public health and their teams to protect and improve public health and wellbeing by making over £10 billion available to local councils to address the wider costs and impacts of Covid-19.

“We have also increased the local authority public health grant to over £3.3 billion this year and allocated additional funding to tackle obesity and drug addiction.”