Today we're proud to stand with 80 other organisations to call on the government to fully fund public health services [pdf].
But why are we having to shout about this and how have we got to this worrying situation?
Public health is all about keeping people healthy – through preventing infection and promoting good health in everyone in our communities. Public health includes sexual health services - ranging from providing information and advice on how to maintain good sexual health, to providing methods to prevent and test for sexually transmitted infections (STIs), and the treatment of STIs when they do occur.
As part of the changes made by the Health and Social Care Act 2012, responsibility for local public health services were transferred from the NHS to local councils.
Investing in public health is common sense – by preventing ill-health it has an obvious positive impact on individual lives, and also saves money to other areas of the health and social care system.
The Prime Minister has said that 'we also know we need to... support prevention and public health, both for the benefits they bring in themselves and to relieve pressure on NHS care', and current Secretary of State for Health Matt Hancock MP has made prevention one of his key priorities.
As we are all in agreement on the importance of public health services – they are all fully funded then hey?! Well, no. That would be far too logical, it seems. Instead of national government investing in these essential services, public health funding has seen year-on-year cuts. Local council public health grant funding is being cut by £700 million in real terms between 2014/15 and 2019/20. This equates to a reduction of almost a quarter in spending per person. A quarter!
And what does this mean for us in the sexual health sector? The Health Foundation has indicated that the cuts to funding has led to sexual health service budgets being cut by 25% between 2014/15 and 2019/20.
Research by HIV and sexual health doctors (BHIVA and BASHH) indicates that a worryingly high proportion of sexual health doctors are having to turn away patients because they don’t have capacity to see them. And official data from Public Health England shows that demand for sexual health services is rising – a 13% increase in attendance between 2013 and 2017 – but with no rise in resources to deal with this demand.
This year the government has the opportunity to put its money where its mouth is and make true on its rhetoric on how important prevention is. The upcoming Government Spending Review will set out how much money local councils will have to spend on public health in the coming years. It MUST include an increase in funding for public health, including sexual health services.
If we are to tackle the STI crisis we are seeing in this country; if we are to continue to see the impressive progress in reducing rates of HIV transmissions; if we are to see a country where everyone has the information and support they need to have good sexual health; we MUST see an investment in public health in the Government Spending Review.
Find out more about our campaign to ensure HIV and sexual health services in England are fully funded.
Debbie Laycock is Head of Policy and Public Affairs at Terrence Higgins Trust.