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PCTs spent public health money on supporting deficits, says survey

22 October 2007

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Less than 10% of primary care trusts (PCTs) spent the full allocation of money given to them by the government for public health funding for that purpose, a survey has revealed.

The survey, conducted by the Association of Directors of Public Health (ADPH), also found that half of England’s PCTs lost nearly all of the money given to them (80% or more), and overall just 28% of these funds are likely to be made available.

The Department of Health (DH) earmarked recurrent funds of £210.5m in 2006–07, and a further £131.0m in 2007–08, making £341.5m in total.

These funds were to be allocated to PCTs for investment in public health programmes, following publication of the DH’s white paper, Choosing Health. Funds were not, however, ring-fenced, which meant that they could be spent on other things.

The ADPH survey was conducted in April 2007 of England’s Directors of Public Health. The sample included all 152 PCTs in England. Findings were based on 103 returns, comprising 68% of these PCTs.

According to the survey, two thirds (66%) of the 2006-2007 choosing health allocation was spent on other things. The most common place for the missing money to go was on supporting PCT financial deficits.

The major areas for investment, where directors of public health expressed concern for their local population, were sexual health, obesity, smoking, and alcohol.

Others were concerned about investment in coronary heart disease, mental health, health trainers, drugs, cancer, screening and long-term conditions.

Dr Tim Crayford, President of the ADPH, said: “Three years after the publication of the Choosing Health white paper, funding intended to tackle preventative health problems is still being used to pay for financial deficits in some parts of the NHS.

“All the evidence shows treatment for obesity, alcohol and sexual health problems are a drain on NHS resources and, with funding now in place to tackle these issues at grassroots level, the government should make sure this is ring-fenced so that it is used for its intended purpose.”

Association of Directors of Public Health