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LGA: Frontline funding for public health teams crucial to post-pandemic recovery

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Greater frontline funding for local public health teams is essential if we are to build back fairer from the devastating coronavirus pandemic and better protect ourselves from future outbreaks, councils and public health leaders say today.

In a new report published on the first day of their joint annual conference, the Local Government Association and Association of Directors of Public Health say that while the success of the vaccine rollout means the risk posed by COVID-19 will gradually reduce, the virus will be with us in some form for years to come.

Health inequalities between the most and least deprived communities have been exposed and deepened over the past 12 months, while we have yet to see the long-term physical and mental impact of the pandemic and what it means for our future health and wellbeing.

Public health teams, based in councils, should be at the centre of efforts to reduce inequalities, boost the economy and improve people’s lives in our recovery from COVID-19, including making greater use of combined resources at local, system and national level. Encouraging behaviour change, such as through health campaigns, tackling vaccine hesitancy and promoting positive mental health, will also see people across the country have longer, healthier and happier lives.

The LGA and ADPH say local approaches to tracing and containing coronavirus have proven their effectiveness, with councils’ test and trace teams generally exceeding the recommended 80 per cent target for contacting people who tested positive, compared to the national system. Surge testing to track down variants of concern in specific areas have also been down to successful partnerships between local, regional and national teams. Given their local knowledge and expertise, involving councils at an earlier stage could have led to a more swift and effective test and trace system.

Councils and their directors of public health also want to play their full part in the future reorganisation of health and care systems, including working closely with the new National Institute for Health Protection (NIHP), giving local government a strong voice from the start.

Councils have seen a £700 million real terms reduction in public health funding between 2014/15 and 2020/21 – a fall of almost a quarter (23.5 per cent) per person. If the Government’s prevention agenda is to succeed, the LGA said this must be re-evaluated in future spending rounds.

To match the growth in overall NHS funding as part of the Long Term Plan, the Government should commit to increasing the public health grant in future years to at least £3.9 billion by 2024/25. This would allow councils to not only continue to provide current services, but also consider expanding other initiatives where financially possible and locally desirable.

Cllr Ian Hudspeth, Chairman of the Local Government Association’s Community Wellbeing Board, said:

“Every one of the lives lost to coronavirus represents a tragic loss and the impact of the pandemic, particularly on the most vulnerable, will be long with us.

“Councils have been at the forefront of measures to tackle the spread and impact of COVID-19, which has taken such a terrible toll on our communities over the past year and threatens to resurge, despite all-out efforts to keep it under control.

“Directors of public health and their teams have been magnificent in their response to this unprecedented crisis, working tirelessly across local government and with the NHS, volunteers, community leaders and many others, rising to the challenge and creatively at speed to suppress the virus.

“Local contact tracing successes and using trusted community champions to promote vaccine take-up are examples of what can be achieved when decision-making is left to councils, who are rooted in their areas, given the right resources and freedoms.

“The ongoing threat posed by new variants means we must continue to be vigilant and use what we have learnt to inform our future planning for health protection and resilience, so that we are ready at all levels of public health to confront this challenge, with local government given a strong voice throughout.”

Dr Jeanelle de Gruchy, President, Association of Directors of Public Health said:

“Over the last year Directors of Public Health and their teams, working closely with colleagues in local government and the NHS, have risen to the challenge that COVID-19 has posed – going above and beyond to protect the health and wellbeing of the communities they serve.

“But, a full recovery from COVID-19 won’t be possible unless we address the underlying structural inequalities that help this, and other viruses, to persist. We owe it to the diverse and disadvantaged communities who have paid the highest price for the virus to create a recovery that addresses our nation’s health inequalities.

“Valuing the role, knowledge and experience of Directors of Public Health and their teams, must mean resourcing them properly. Additional funding to local public health, both now and in the years ahead, will be essential to protecting and improving the nation’s health.”

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