Fears over ‘short-sighted’ cuts as Sunderland faces £5.8million reduction to public health grant

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Concerns have been raised about public health services in Sunderland as council bosses face grant funding cuts of nearly £6million.

In 2020/21 public health funding is expected to shift from ring-fenced grants to 75% business rate retention.

However, the new funding formula used to decide public health pots could see 12 North East councils lose out on a combined £40million.

Under the proposals, Sunderland City Council would see its grant cut from £24million in 2017/18 to £18.123million – a 25 per cent reduction.

If grant reductions are brought into force, council bosses claim the key services tackling health inequalities in the city could be affected.

Cabinet member for health and social care, Coun Dr Geoff Walker, labelled the proposals as “short-sighted”,  noting the potential impact on the health of Sunderland residents.

“Work helping to prevent teenage pregnancies, smoking, inactivity, child obesity, sexually transmitted infections, drug or alcohol abuse, or better oral health, are not health budget add-ons,” he said.

“The public health grant also funds key services for children and families, such as health visiting and school nursing.

“Preventative work now helps keep people out of hospital and what is often more time-consuming and much more expensive medical treatment.”

The North East-wide impact of the changes was revealed at a meeting of Durham’s Health and Wellbeing Board this month with Sunderland facing the second highest cut in the region behind Durham.

However, the public health changes have already been factored into Sunderland City Council’s budget planning, which includes  £50million in cuts over the next three years.

Coun Dr Walker added: “The government says it is increasing spending in the NHS but is taking away money from the public health services which can prevent illness and poor health in the first place.

“If public health budgets are cut then this will impact directly on the health of this city’s residents and the government is going to put greater pressure on already stretched NHS resources.

“Cuts to public health are short-sighted and the city council, along with others, is lobbying strongly against these reductions.”

The Independent Advisory Committee for Resource Allocation (ACRA) formula is used to decide public health grants within business rate retention.

Predictions for future funding for local authorities are based on 2015/16 ACRA proposals and public health grant allocations for 2017/18.

Sunderland’s public health at a glance:

Sunderland is one of the 20% most deprived districts/unitary authorities in England.

Around 23% (11,100) of children live in low income families.

(Pharmaceutical Needs Assessment for Sunderland

April 2018 – March 2021)

Life expectancy

Life expectancy for both men and women is lower than the England averages

This includes 77 years for males and 80.9 years for females compared with 79.5 years and 83.1 years respectively for England

Smoking

Smoking remains the greatest contributor to premature death and disease across Sunderland.

The proportion of adults that smoke in Sunderland fell between 2012 and 2016 from 23.8% to 18%.

Rates of smoking are highest among young adults aged 25 to 34,  people from socially and economically disadvantaged communities and long-term unemployed.

Figures from 2016/17 show smoking during pregnancy remains high, with 487 women recorded, equating to 17.1% of pregnant women compared to the England average of 10.5%.

One in 13 smokers in Sunderland access NHS Stop Smoking Services each year and in 2016/17, 48% who set a quit date quit at four weeks.

However, deaths relating to lung cancer in Sunderland are still 54% higher than the England average.

Alcohol

Around 66.4% of Sunderland adults aged 18 years and over drink alcohol.

Men aged 45-64 and women aged 35-54 are most likely to drink alcohol.

In Sunderland, 21.6% of adults are exceeding recommended safe limits for alcohol consumption.

Around 26.3% of adults also binge drink – more than six units on their heaviest drinking day in a single week.

In 2016/17, there were 2,672 hospital admissions for alcohol-related harm with 984 per 100,000 population compared to 645 for England.

Obesity

In Sunderland, 29% of adults were classed as obese and 41% were classes as overweight higher than the England prevalence 24% and 40%.

For children, 11% of reception class age were obese compared to 9% for England.

Additionally,  24% of year six children were obese, compared to 20% for England.

Underlying causes of obesity include availability of high calorie food,  more sedentary lifestyles, use of cars as a means of transport and existing health problems from type two diabetes and cardiovascular disease to cancer.

In 2015/16 the rate of  hospital admissions was 117 per 100,000 population was the highest in England and higher than the England average of 19 per 100,000.

Teenage Pregnancy

Recent data from the Office for National Statistics showed Sunderland had the third highest rate for teenage pregnancies in the North East.

This included a conception rate of 31.9 per 1,000 women under the age of 18 in 2016.

The city had 135 conceptions, 20 down from the 2015 figures.

The number has fallen significantly since 1998, when there was 357 conceptions and a 63.1 conception rate per 1,000 women in the age group.

Local data also shows links between teen pregnancy and areas of deprivation in the city.

Chris Binding , Local Democracy Reporting Service