Children's health services at risk despite funding increase, warn professionals

By Joe Lepper

| 14 January 2013

A ten per cent increase in public health funding over the next two years may still fall short of the sum needed to protect many children and young people's services at risk of closure, professionals have warned.

Professionals are warning that youth mental health provision could be cut back. Image: Alex Deverill

Last week, the Department of Health (DH) announced how much funding local authorities will receive when they take over responsibility for public health this April.

Councils will be handed £2.66bn in 2013/14 and £2.79bn in 2014/15, which equates to a 10.8 per cent increase in public health funding over the two years.

But Barbara Rayment, chair of the Children and Young People’s Mental Health Coalition and director of Youth Access, warned that children’s mental health services could miss out as councils battle to reduce their escalating adult social care bill.

While the money is ringfenced for public health, there is no requirement on councils to spend a certain proportion on children and young people’s services, she said.

“We all know the intense pressure councils are facing regarding funding for the elderly,” Rayment said. “I can see children and young people’s services losing out as a result in many areas.”

A spokeswoman for the sexual health services charity Brook agreed. “The shift in focus away from children and young people’s services is a real fear,” she said. “There are enormous financial pressures on councils and tough decisions will need to be made.”

Jo Webber, director of policy at the NHS Confederation, said spending on children and young people’s health initiatives will need to be closely monitored. “Funding for children’s public health will always be a concern while the bit ticket issue that faces councils is the adult social care bill,” she said.

Zoe Renton, head of policy at the National Children’s Bureau, urged professionals to lobby local health and wellbeing boards to invest in services for the young.

“There are concerns that councils will pay for the services they have to, and not for those they don’t,” she said. “That is why the boards need to be made aware of the importance of addressing the health needs of children to reduce health inequalities.”

But Rayment warned that children’s health campaigners could struggle to lobby councils across the country.

“There are now 150 individual commissioners dealing with public health for children,” she said. “We just do not have the capacity to contact all of them. It makes our task really tough.”

The Local Government Association (LGA) has welcomed the overall increase in public health funding, but has concerns about individual council allocations.

Birmingham, for example, will see an increase of just 5.7 per cent over the next two years, while Hertfordshire’s funding will increase by 21 per cent.

David Rogers, chair of the LGA’s community wellbeing board said: “There are outstanding concerns over the individual allocations for each council but we are pleased that, where significant unforeseen funding issues appear, the DH has agreed to work with the local authorities in question and, where there is sufficient evidence, provide additional funding.”

Webber said the government is yet to “get it right” in terms of the funding allocation. But she added: “I see this as a work in progress and changes will be made in the long-term. Public health is a long-term funding commitment.”

A spokesman for the DH said government is committed to tackling poor health from an early age and has taken “a number of steps to ensure children's public health services are adequately provided for”.

“For the first time money for local public health services will be ringfenced and protected, emphasising the government's commitment to tackling the causes of poor health,” he said.

“Health and wellbeing boards will be established by each council and will have a crucial role in developing an understanding of local health and care needs through the joint strategic needs assessments.

“Priorities for tackling public health issues will be set according to these assessments and local authorities must demonstrate how funding and services will improve the health of their local communities.”

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