Public health cuts represent a false economy, researchers say


Cuts to public health are a "false economy" and are likely to generate billions of pounds of extra costs, researchers say.

Experts analysed 52 studies looking at how cost-effective public health measures are and found that for every £1 invested in public health, £14 is returned to the health and social care economy.

Public health programmes aim to prevent ill health or to improve health such as stop-smoking services.

The issue is controversial in the UK due to Government cuts to public health spending.

The Local Government Association (LGA) has said councils face significant spending reductions to their public health budget up to 2020/21.

Councils have received £84 million less from the Government for public health in 2017/18, it said.

This follows a £77 million reduction in 2016/17 and a £200 million in-year cut in 2015/16.

The new study, from public health researchers in a range of councils and universities, looked at 29 different types of intervention relating to the UK, Western Europe, the US, Canada, Japan, Australia and New Zealand.

It concluded that "local and national public health interventions are highly cost-saving.

"Cuts to public health budgets in high-income countries therefore represent a false economy, and are likely to generate billions of pounds of additional costs to health services and the wider economy.

"This systematic review demonstrates a median return on investment of public health interventions of 14:1.

"Thus, for every £1 invested in public health, £14 will subsequently be returned to the wider health and social care economy."

The experts said their study "suggests that cuts to public health services are short sighted and represent a false economy, with substantial opportunity costs".

Linda Thomas, vice chairwoman of the LGA's Community Wellbeing Board, said: "Interventions to tackle teenage pregnancy, excessive alcohol consumption, physical inactivity, sexually transmitted infections and substance misuse cannot be seen as an added extra for health budgets.

"Reductions in councils' public health grants of more than £530 million by the end of the decade will no doubt impact on councils' ability to continue this good work.

"To take vital money away from the services which can be used to prevent illness and the need for treatment later down the line and ease the pressure on the NHS is counter-productive.

"Investing in prevention ultimately saves money for other parts of the public sector by reducing demand for hospital, health and social care services and ultimately improves the public's health."

A Department of Health spokesman said: "This Government has a strong track record on public health - cancer survival is at a record high whilst smoking and teenage pregnancies are at an all-time low.

"Over the course of this Parliament we will invest more than £16 billion in local government public health services, in addition to what the NHS continues to spend on vaccinations, screening and the world's first national diabetes prevention programme.

"We have shown that we are willing to take tough action to protect the public's health - introducing standardised packaging of cigarettes, a soft drinks industry levy and launching a world-leading childhood obesity plan."