£1.3m drop in health budget slammed by campaigners

Coun David Owen  (left) has written to Prime Minister David Cameron
Coun David Owen (left) has written to Prime Minister David Cameron

Health campaigners have written to the Prime Minister warning potential cuts of £1.3m to Blackpool’s public health budget would cause “unnecessary illnesses and deaths”.

In a stinging letter to David Cameron, Coun David Owen, chairman of the 38 Degrees Blackpool, Fylde and Wyre NHS Support Group, warns the poorest residents in Blackpool will bear the brunt of the cuts.

Prime Minister David Cameron

Prime Minister David Cameron

Earlier this year, the Government announced it is slashing public health spending nationally by £200m in this financial year. In Blackpool – which tops the country’s mortality rates for lung and liver disease in the UK – the funding is used to tackle issues such as alcohol abuse, smoking and poor nutrition.

In his letter to David Cameron, Coun Owen warns cutting funding: “will inevitably lead to unnecessary illnesses and deaths” in a town which already has one of the worst life expectancy rates in England.

Although a figure has yet to be put on how much could be axed from Blackpool’s public health budget, it is understood the final total could be in the region of £1.3m this year.

Coun Owen says in his letter: “Blackpool has the country’s lowest life-expectancy rate for men, and almost the lowest for women.

Blackpool has the country’s lowest life-expectancy rate for men, and almost the lowest for women.

Coun David Owen

“Most of these early deaths are preventable, and the local public health department has been making excellent progress, thanks to a multitude of innovative and imaginative schemes.”

He gave details to the PM of Blackpool’s poor health record, including that around 37,000 people out of a population of 140,000 are living with long-term health conditions, while the resort has the country’s highest rate of deaths from liver disease.

Coun Owen adds: “These appalling statistics represent untold heartache and misery for a substantial proportion of our population – in particular those living in the multi-occupation properties that were once our seaside boarding houses.

“These areas are now among the poorest and most deprived in Britain.

“Our excellent public health department has shown that, through carefully thought out targeted programmes of education, therapy and rehabilitation, steady progress can be made in reducing the toll of preventable illness.

“But budget reductions on the scale announced will have a major impact, and will inevitably lead to unnecessary illnesses and deaths.”

However Paul Maynard, Conservative MP for Blackpool North and Cleveleys, said he believed frontline services would not be affected.

He said: “One of the great successes of the health reforms that 38 Degrees sought to so strenuously oppose was the devolution of public health responsibilities to local authorities.

“Locally, Dr Rajpura has done an excellent job in focusing on the key public health challenges that this area faces – challenges almost unique in Britain in their depth and complexity.

“But I would caution 38 Degrees and local Labour councillors such as Mr Owen to wait for the detail of the allocations.

“Not every council has been as assiduous as Blackpool in investing in public health, as the Treasury has made clear that the £200m is based on projected national underspending by local authorities, so the ‘cut’ – if that is what to call not spending what has not been spent – will not be affect frontline services.

“When allocations are announced, there will be a consultation, which I will be taking part in.”

Last month Coun Graham Cain, chairman of the Blackpool Health and Wellbeing Board, also wrote to the Government to raise concerns about possible cuts.

In February, the latest statistics from Public Health England revealed of 150 authorities in England, Blackpool was rated second for people dying before the age of 75 with 549 deaths per 100,000 people.

The resort also topped the table for premature deaths relating to lung disease and liver disease - illnesses linked to smoking and drinking.

It comes as Blackpool Council’s Public Health annual report for 2014 has just been published and highlights a widening gap in health inequalities between the north and south of England.

Due North, a report by Professor Margaret Whitehead of the University of Liverpool, also revealed the widening gap.

Blackpool’s director of public health Dr Arif Rajpura has called for an action plan to address the situation.

Statistics which illustrate the divide include life expectancy figures which show men in Blackpool live an average of five years less (74.3 years) than the average across England (79.4 years).

The report also highlights economic inequality with the average working age adult being an average of £914 worse off as a result of welfare changes as compared to a £470 UK average.

Dr Rajpura said: “Some of these actions Blackpool are already being done successfully and for some time, but further work needs to be done in many areas in order to decrease the unacceptable inequalities that exist within the north and between the north and south.

“It must not be forgotten that Due North also made a number of important recommendations for Central Government and we urge this new government to acknowledge and implement these recommendations in full.”