Leeds Council makes public health cuts ‘with heavy heart’

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MILLIONS of pounds of public health cuts passed down to Leeds City Council from the Government have been decided “with a heavy heart”.

Civic bosses in Leeds have been tasked with making their share of the savings - expected to be around £2.8m.

Coun Lisa Mulherin.

Coun Lisa Mulherin.

So far council bosses have found £2.2m of cuts from public health services like smoking cessation, winter wellbeing services, oral health and healthy schools work that were only handed over to the local authority by the NHS in 2013.

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Leeds has also told BHA Leeds Skyline, the city’s only HIV support service, that its contract may not be renewed in March 2016 due to uncertainty over budgets. The service has been working in Leeds since 2007 and supports 450 people in the city with HIV every year.

At a meeting of the council’s health scrutiny board Coun Lisa Mulherin, executive member for health, explained that the council felt it only fair to tell the HIV support service of its funding issues and reiterated the council’s support for vulnerable people.

“We are committed to supporting people with HIV and will continue to,” she said. “What we would have been doing if we hadn’t been put in this position is extending that contract for a year.”

She said that public health chiefs were being forced to make the cuts with a “heavy heart” and had spared vital support for people in the form of children’s centres, health visiting, the family nurse partnership and neighbourhood networks as well as newly commissioned sexual health and drug and alcohol misuse services.The cuts decided upon so far still leave a £600,000 shortfall, which the public health team will monitor in the hope NHS colleagues and the performance of some of its contracts can help to cut costs further.

Dr Ian Cameron, the council’s director of public health, said: “The fact that we have only found £2.2m of cuts shows just how difficult it’s been to find savings.”

He continued: “We feel we are using the money wisely. It’s not a sense of there is a big bag of spare gold we can haul out of the safe and give back to the centre.”

He told the meeting that a looming threat of a judicial review over the cuts, along with a move by council officials in Manchester to propose that the cuts be made in a different way, mean the Department of Health has still to state the exact amount Leeds is expected to cut.

It was also suggested that a new Government consultation on the formula that decides how public health grants are issued to local authorities in future could potentially see Leeds’ budget go up at some point. Council bosses argue public health in Leeds is already underfunded to the tune of £6m.

Dr Cameron said: “There is recognition in the formula that Leeds needs even more money and that’s what makes these cuts even worse.”

The cuts follow an announcement by Chancellor George Osborne in June that the national public health pot would be cut by £200million,