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DHSC to launch new body to tackle obesity and poor mental health

by James Hacker
29 March 2021

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A new Office for Health Promotion, intended to tackle obesity and improve mental health, will be in place by the autumn, the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) has said.

The Office for Health Promotion, announced today (29 March), will combine Public Health England’s (PHE) health improvement expertise with existing DHSC health policy capabilities, DHSC said.

It comes after the Government announced plans to scrap PHE in August 2020.

Last week, DHSC also confirmed a new UK-wide public health and disease security organisation – the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) – would launch in April, which brings together PHE, NHS Test and Trace, and the Joint Biosecurity Centre.

The Office for Health Promotion will ‘exert influence across the health and care system’ at a national level, DHSC said, while the UKHSA will form a permanent part of the country’s national defences.

The new office will also help create ‘joined-up cross-government action’ between national and local governments, and the NHS, with the ability to implement policies in other government departments where appropriate.

DHSC said: ‘Strengthening DHSC’s role and capabilities in this way will enable it to promote, inform and support a stronger shared focus on physical and mental health right across national government.’

It added: ‘We are focusing the NHS more explicitly on preventing physical and mental ill health, including its work on reducing inequalities, preventing diabetes, supporting smoking cessation, treating alcohol misuse and intervening early to support people with mental health problems.’

Sitting within the DHSC, the office will recruit an expert lead who will report to both Matt Hancock, the Health Secretary, and Chris Whitty, the chief medical officer.

Matt Hancock said: ‘Prevention is better than cure. By putting in place innovative prevention measures, we can help everyone to live longer, healthier lives as we ease back to normality, and relieve pressures from our NHS.’

A spokesperson for DHSC confirmed that the new office will be funded from existing DHSC and PHE budgets.

‘No new funding’

Responding to the announcement, Christina Marriott, chief executive of the Royal Society for Public Health (RSPH), said: ‘Given the scale of challenges the UK faces, we are concerned at rumours that no new funding has been secured for this office. We are concerned that its initial scope seems narrowly defined, with a concentration on prevention of ill-health rather than creation of health.’

She added that ‘we shall miss an important opportunity if the Office for Health Promotion concentrates on individuals and lifestyles when the evidence shows that the most effective health promotion levers are at the fiscal, tax, planning, societal and environmental levels’.

Sally Warren, director of policy at The King’s Fund, said that the announcement provided some ‘much-needed public health expertise in government’, which should act as a catalyst to address health inequalities exposed by the pandemic.

‘But today’s announcement does not add up to compelling vision for creating a healthier society and needs to be swiftly followed by a clear plan for improving the health of the nation, at the centre of which should be a new cross-government health inequalities strategy backed by clear national goals,’ she said.

‘Ministers rightly acknowledge that ‘prevention is better than cure’, and this rhetoric needs to be matched by reality.’

She added that the new office was announced ‘just days after the Government announced local authority public health funding that is 24% lower in real terms in 2021/22 compared to 2015/16’.

‘The Spending Review will need to increase the public health budget significantly to make up for recent cuts,’ she said.


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