Since it was created in 2013, Public Health England (PHE) has made a good start in its efforts to protect and improve public health. Good public health is vital to tackling health inequalities and reducing burdens on the NHS. We were impressed by the passion shown by PHE's Chief Executive, and his determination to challenge Government to consider public health in wider policymaking.
However, we are concerned that the Department of Health (the Department) is not getting local authorities to their target funding allocations for public health quickly enough, with nearly one third of 152 local authorities currently receiving funding that is more than 20% above or below what would be their fair share. The Department decided not to change the grant distribution for 2015/16. Local authorities are also presently constrained by being tied into contracts to which the Department had previously committed, such as for sexual health interventions. It is not clear whether the public health grant to local authorities will remain ring-fenced, and they need more certainty to better plan their public health programmes. If the ring-fence is removed, there is a risk that spending on public health will decline as councils come under increasing financial pressures. There are still unacceptable health inequalities across the country, for example healthy life expectancy for men ranges from 52.5 years to 70 years depending on where they live. These inequalities make PHE's support at a local level particularly important but we are concerned that PHE does not have strong enough ways of influencing local authorities to ensure progress against all of its top public health priorities. Finally, given how important it is to tackle the many wider causes of poor public health, PHE needs to influence departments more effectively and translate its own passion into action across Whitehall.