Health and Wellbeing

GalleryPreparing for public health homecoming

Posted on: 15 March 2013

In just over two weeks, the way in which public health in Devon is delivered and organised will change significantly, as responsibility for the health of Devon’s communities is handed back to the local authority for the first time in 39 years.

The move comes as part of a number of changes to the management of the health service, introduced by the government in its bid to ‘liberate the NHS’.

From April 1, Devon County Council will be required to deliver services that improve the health of Devon’s population, prevent ill-health and reduce current inequalities that exist from region to region. This includes stop smoking advice, drug and alcohol services, sexual health clinics and providing advice and intelligence to health commissioners.

Devon has also set up a HealthWatch, part of a national network of organisations that can look into complaints and scrutinise the performance of local health and social care providers.

Councillor Andrea Davis, Devon County Council’s Cabinet Member for Health and Wellbeing, and Chairman of the Devon Health and Wellbeing Board, said:  “This move takes public health back to its local government roots for the first time since 1974.  Local authorities are more democratically accountable, and arguably have more influence over their communities, and these are good reasons for its return, together with chance to work alongside some of the key services that influence the health of communities, such as housing and environmental health, employment, housing, and air quality.

“Although these responsibilities won’t transfer until 1 April, the journey to transforming public health started well over a year ago, and Devon County Council is in good shape to begin delivering these new services from day one.

“We have been working closely with our colleagues in public health to integrate our new responsibilities into our everyday business, and we’ve encouraged all our services to think about how they can improve the health of our communities through their roles and responsibilities.  And we are fortunate in having a wealth of expertise and experience in our public health team, so we will make sure their influence is felt in every corner of our organisation.”

With a budget of just over £20m, the Council will commission a range of public health services, which include:

  • Sexual health services – including contraception, and genito-urinary medicine (GUM)
  • Providing public health expertise to NHS commissioners
  • National child measuring programme
  • Take steps to protect the health of the population
  • NHS health checks
  • Tobacco control and smoking cessation services
  • Drug and alcohol services
  • Children’s public health (school nurses)

Dr Virginia Pearson, Devon’s Director of Public Health, said:  “We are determined that this transition will be about much more than a change in responsibility for the health of communities in Devon.

“We have a long list of responsibilities that we are required to deliver, which include advice to the people who commission health services.

“However, we welcome the chance to make a real difference to people’s health – through, for example, providing NHS health checks for everyone over the age of 40, and by tackling some of the main contributory factors to health inequalities in the county, such as poverty, obesity and alcohol.

“Public health has already had an impact on people’s lifestyle choices, for example on smoking, and there has been a big perception change over recent years.  But by working alongside housing, leisure, and environmental health, we can focus on some of the preventative measures that have a lasting impact on people’s health.”

Amongst the other changes being introduced on April 1 is the formal constitution of the Devon Health and Wellbeing Board – a forum for leaders from the health, public health, care  and voluntary and community sector to work together to improve the health and wellbeing of the population and reduce health inequalities.

2 comments on “Preparing for public health homecoming

  1. ken says:

    I guess as a simple council tax payer I cant understand why a small £20 million budget cannot be part of the NHS. As a simple citizen it seems that various organisations have fingers in pies and that all would be more efficient if health were part of the NHS responsibility, and not involving local councils. If for example I’m to get a free health check , would not it be better for my GP to offer it. I’m not convinced devon needs a health and wellbeing board. Clearly the government have allocated the funds so Devon will duly spend it. Of 500K citizens in Devon I guess that is £40 a year to spend. Sigh!

    • Devon Newscentre says:

      Thank you, Ken, for your comments. As you probably know, the transition of public health, and the introduction of Health and Wellbeing Boards, are both part of the Government’s health reforms, and are being carried out nationally. Public health has a long history of being part of the local authority, and, because the nature of its work focuses on the health of communities rather than individuals, much of it has close ties with other services currently delivered by the council, such as environmental health, trading standards, education and planning.

      In terms of the public health budget, you’re right that the allocation from central government is comparatively low for Devon – at just £27 per person, it puts Devon in the bottom 10 nationally. However, the settlement will allow public health to continue to deliver services at current levels, and even offer additional services, such as NHS Health Checks for those over 40, which will be carried out by your GP on our behalf.

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