Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 6:22 pm on 14th May 2019.

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Photo of Liz McInnes Liz McInnes Shadow Minister (Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs) 6:22 pm, 14th May 2019

It is a pleasure to follow my hon. Friend Geraint Davies. I want to talk about the impact of public health grant cuts on Rochdale Borough Council, which serves both my constituency and the Rochdale constituency. Reductions in the public health grant will inevitably have an impact on a wide range of services and on the ability to plan and deliver prevention. The Rochdale borough public health team takes a broad view of health and wellbeing, seeing it as being influenced by health behaviours, wider determinants of health, such as housing and education, and relationships with others.

Local public health work is about much more than health promotion and telling people what is good and bad for them. It includes support for youth services and libraries and for victims of domestic abuse. It involves training to help to prevent suicide, support for volunteering, and reducing the impact of alcohol and drug abuse.

The work of the public health team also includes supporting people in residential homes to improve their oral health and nutrition. It includes seeking funding from grant-giving bodies to improve local health. Importantly, the work involves helping to reduce the spread of sexually transmitted diseases. However, as we have heard, cuts to sexual health services are leading to an increase in the incidence of sexually transmitted diseases. In Greater Manchester as a whole, the abortion rate is rising as access to sexual health services and contraceptive help and advice diminishes.

The work of the public health team also includes providing direct input into NHS commissioning and providing essential support for NHS services. For example, while the NHS provides cancer screening, it is work within our communities that helps to get people to attend appointments. The public health team works to increase attendance at NHS health checks and to get people tested for diabetes, which can result in lifestyle changes and real savings in treatment costs. With Heywood, Middleton and Rochdale having one of the north-west’s highest rates of type 2 diabetes, the importance of this work cannot be overemphasised. The public health team works to reduce smoking, especially in poor communities and among people with long-term conditions. When NICE looks at such prevention work, it is always shown to be highly cost-effective.

To give an idea of the health challenges facing my community, a man or woman living here in Westminster can expect to live, on average, five and a half years longer than a man or woman living in the borough of Rochdale. Such health inequalities exist here in London, too. My hon. Friend Ms Buck tells me that for every tube station from here to Queen’s Park there is a year’s reduction in life expectancy.

Yet such health inequalities are not compensated for by increased funding. In the borough of Rochdale, the public health grant is now £3 million lower than it was in 2016-17—decreasing from £19.7 million then to £16.7 million in 2018-19. For this financial year, 2019-20, the budget has been cut yet again to £16.3 million, giving cumulative cuts over the past four years of over £8 million. That has led to cuts in support to HIV charities, children’s playgroups, physical activity events, pest control, smoking cessation services and other much-needed vital services.

A reduction in the public health grant has to be considered in the context of wider council savings and the contribution of public health. As cuts to services and support have to be made due to a reduction in funding, the inevitable result is additional hardship for residents.

The choices we face are stark. Do we stop support for a necessary service such as help for domestic abuse victims, or do we not recruit much-needed staff? With the shocking news that we are seeing the return of diseases of the Victorian era—cases of whooping cough, malnutrition and scarlet fever are all increasing—this Government cannot be complacent and must take another look at their false economy of cutting public health funding.