CHILDHOOD OBESITY, smoking and alcohol misuse could soar as a result of the Government’s planned £200m “stealth” cuts to public health budgets, the nurses’ union has warned.
More people will become ill from preventable or manageable conditions because of the move “quietly” announced by Chancellor George Osborne last month, the Royal College of Nursing (RCN) said.
The cuts will see money slashed from council budgets leading to fears this will jeopardise vital services such as obesity prevention, stop smoking schemes and alcohol misuse programmes.
Other services funded by local authorities’ public health budgets include school nursing, screening programmes, drug and substance misuse programmes and sexual health schemes.
The RCN claimed cuts to these services will increase the burden placed on acute services at a time when the UK is failing to train enough staff, and in turn have a considerable impact on the NHS’s ability to deliver seven day care.
Its chief executive and general secretary Dr Peter Carter warned it will also prove more costly in the long run, with millions of people suffering ill health in the future as preventative measures will not be in place.
He said: “Issues like childhood obesity, smoking, drugs, alcohol and inactivity are not going to go away - they will get worse if they are not tackled now.
“The services may look expensive - but they are far, far cheaper than having a generation of young people suffering increasingly poor health, and the NHS could end up spending millions more at a time when it is least equipped to.”
Meanwhile 20 leading health charities and organisations have also warned of the devastating impact the cuts could have. In a letter to The Times, charities including Macmillan Cancer Support, Diabetes UK and the British Heart Foundation said the nation’s health would be put at risk.
“Public health services target some of the most significant challenges of our time, such as smoking, alcohol misuse, obesity and inactivity,” the letter said.
“For the NHS and social care to cope with challenges posed by growing demand and limited resources, there needs to be an increased emphasis on preventing ill-health.
“We urge Government to take note of the weight of evidence and recognise that cuts to public health services would be deeply counter-productive to the health of our nation.”
The letter was also signed by the Royal Society for Public Health, the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health and the Royal College of Midwives.