Experts warn the £642,000 of cuts announced for Lewisham Council’s public health budget, which will include services for parents with new babies and substance misuse, are a “ticking timebomb”.
The council will also make cuts to community nutrition and physical activity services, the health visiting service and the Neighbourhood Community Development partnership following a cut in public health funding from the Government.
It is consulting on the cuts, which have been described as “counter-productive and short-sighted” by cabinet member for health and adult social care, Cllr Chris Best.
Since 2015, the Government has cut Lewisham’s public health budget by £4 million – about 15 per cent of the total budget.
Save Lewisham Hospital campaigner Dr Tony Sullivan said cuts to the health visiting service, a workforce of specialist community public health nurses, would negatively impact on the safeguarding of children.
He said said the £196,306, or 2.6 per cent, cut from the service was just “salami slicing”, with the service already slashed by 16.4 per cent in 2016.
This meant less nurses were out and about in the community.
“Those cuts are very worrying. Many first-time parents and the most disadvantaged will need the health visiting support the most – and they won’t get it,” Dr Sullivan explained.
“It will have a knock-on effect. The cuts to the health service are really worrying for knock-on effects for safeguarding children.”
Public health nurses who visit families can identify a raft of issues, including maternal depression.
“Groups of staff like health visiting nurses have a strong input in health – either they get confidences shared with them,” he continued.
“Unless you have that face-to-face contact with families you don’t pick up on the signs [of some health problems]. It is absolutely crazy.”
Dr Sullivan said the cuts to substance misuse by £127,000, or three per cent, were significant as services were needed more and more.
“Unfortunately people are more likely to be substance misuser’s and more and more services are reduced,” he said.
He said £10,000 cut from the community nutrition and physical activity services and £10,000 cut from the Neighbourhood Community Development Partnership (NCPD), which funds voluntary and community organisations involved in public health, would make it more difficult for people to improve their own lives.
These services include improving social isolation and loneliness, healthy eating and cooking workshops, and healthy walks and exercise programmes.
He said: “NHS England are claiming they will help people to look after themselves and then they are cutting the very services they would use in the community.
“It is a ticking time-bomb. Everything will decompensate. We have a public health service that is being eroded and the most vulnerable will end up the most impacted,” he continued
Cllr Chris Best said the consultation would help the council understand the priorities of those who use the services.
“Unfortunately these cuts mean we have to reduce our public health services and we are keen to understand the priorities of those who use them and rely on them.”
The consultation closes on November 7.
To have your say, visit https://consultation.lewisham.gov.uk