Tory threat to Birmingham’s public health!

‘Public health refers to all organized measures to prevent disease, promote health, and prolong life among the population as a whole. Its activities aim to provide conditions in which people can be healthy and focus on entire populations, not on individual patients or diseases.’

World Health Organisation

life-expectancy

Major threats have emerged over the summer to an important range of public health services which are the responsibility of Birmingham Council. They are faced with a possible new round of cuts and possible outsourcing and privatisation.  In July the Government launched a national consultation over proposals to cut the amount the NHS pays to local Councils to improve the health of the public. The favoured option is a 6.2% across the board cut to all Councils.

Also in July Birmingham’s Council Cabinet made decisions to move to procure School Nursing Advisory service and for the Health Visiting service to be included in a procurement for Early years services. These services are currently provided by Birmingham Community Healthcare NHS Trust.

Recently the City Council had recommissioned other public health services for Substance Misuse and Sexual Health. In the case of the Substance Misuse Service the existing NHS provider the Birmingham and Solihull Mental Health Trust was replaced by CRI a leading drug and alcohol charity.

This combination of the threat of new cuts to funding together with services being put out to tender was identified by Tracy Taylor, the chief executive of Birmingham Community Healthcare NHS Trust, as a major concern for Health Visiting services:

“There is a danger that the recent work to bring health visitor numbers up to safe levels will be compromised as we have no assurance that these services will not be targeted for savings,” she said.

“The government’s announcement of £200m of new cuts to public health last week adds considerable concern as to the future of universal services for children, and parents and young children are likely to suffer as a result,” she added. (1)

The transfer of Public Health responsibilities out of the NHS and into Local Authorities in April 2013 was welcomed by many Public Health Directors as a huge opportunity to improve the health and wellbeing of their local populations.

This was certainly the case with Dr Adrian Phillips, Birmingham’s Director of Public Health who said, “I am not scared about the move to local government because that is where the levers are to improve public health so that is where you should be. If you are there to make people better and improve their health you can’t do that if they don’t have a job or housing.” (2)

Local authorities have a wide range of statutory responsibilities for housing, social care, and the environment all of which have important public health dimensions for the local communities they serve.

Moving public health into Local Government was part of the wider Con-Dem’s reforms to the NHS. Local authorities’ statutory responsibilities for public health services were set out in the Health and Social Care Act 2012. These general responsibilities included addressing health inequalities, providing facilities for the prevention or treatment of illness, and providing assistance to help individuals minimise risks to health arising from their accommodation or environment. (3)

Funding for these public health services is paid for by the NHS and comes out of the Department of Health budget which is now directly paid to local Councils and is held as a ring-fenced budget. In Birmingham this was nearly £83m in 2014/15. Previously these services were commissioned by the Primary Care Trusts (NHS bodies abolished by the Health and Social Care Act 2012), who commissioned services from NHS provider trusts. This responsibility now falls upon local Councils which are now re-commissioning public health services.

By placing the administration of public health outside of NHS George Osborne’s political game can now start to be seen two years on. While providing political guarantees not to directly cut NHS core funding Osborne has placed public health outside of this commitment.
The new proposed cuts to public health funding are to be made midway through the financial year.

Birmingham’s Director of Public Health, Dr Adrian Phillips, stated: “Our plans for 2015/16 are based on funding agreed with the chancellor just six months ago but this announcement could mean we have £6.5 million less to spend on vital services.”

Objections to the proposed cuts are that they will also fall disproportionately on larger cities with high levels of health inequality and greater clinical need. Birmingham’s Labour Council has been quick to respond in condemning the false economy of cutting preventative services.

Cllr Paulette Hamilton, Cabinet Member for Health and Social Care, has warned:
“Our work in Birmingham tackling obesity and physical activity, for example, is vital if we want to reduce the burden of preventable disease on the NHS. If we’re forced to cut that work, we will see an increase in heart disease, stroke, some cancers, diabetes and much more.” (4)

But Birmingham TUC Health Campaign has criticised the Council leadership for continuing to go down the road of procuring the Health Visiting and School Nursing services which could allow private health care providers such as Virgin Healthcare to tender to run them.

The campaign has written to Sir Albert Bore pointing out that the impact of increased privatisation of NHS services leading to the fragmentation of services was a major issue for the Labour Party during the General Election in May. The Labour Party Manifesto made the commitment that:
‘We will establish a sensible commissioning framework, based on the principle of an NHS preferred provider, to stop the drive towards privatisation and make sure that NHS services are not destabilised by competition and fragmentation.’ (5)

The BTUC Health campaign has argued that a Labour Council should not potentially be privatising NHS services and has grounds to treat NHS provider trusts as ‘preferred providers’ at a local level.

Maintaining the capacity and integration of NHS provider services in Birmingham should be regarded as a justified social goal by Birmingham City Council. As such the Council should positively interpret by the Public Services (Social Value) Act and latest EU Procurement Regulations to defend the NHS in Birmingham and contract with NHS provider trusts.

In the Letter to Sir Albert Bore the campaign reminded him of the decision of Cornwall Council to discontinue their procurement of local Community Health services on the grounds that they want to consider the opportunities for closer integration between health and social care services offered by the Cornwall Devolution Deal.

Birmingham remains a city of significant health inequalities.

It’s startling that just eight miles separates the highest and lowest life expectancy areas in the city. If we use the cross-city rail network to illustrate the issue, we find that:
• Within only eight stops you can shave nine years off the average life expectancy of a citizen.
• Within eleven stops you can shave eleven years off the average life expectancy of a male citizen.
• Within only five stops you can shave five years off the average life expectancy of a female citizen. (6)

Reducing health inequalities has been seen an explicit goal of public health services and policies. The Tory attack on the public health system is an attack on that commitment to reduce health inequality in our city and nationally. Birmingham’s Labour Group should stop the possible privatisation of the School Health Advisory and Health Visiting services by suspending the procurements.

This Labour leadership has claimed that its priority has been to ‘protect the most vulnerable’ and acknowledges these cuts will hurt the most vulnerable. It is now time for this Council to ‘step up to the plate’ and to take on the Tory Government over these cuts.

Defending the NHS locally and fighting against health inequality should be key rallying points for this Labour Council in publicly campaigning against Tory austerity policies in the Birmingham.

Get involved in the campaigning against the privatisation and cuts to the NHS with BTUC Health Campaign /KONP by contacting btuchcc@hotmail.com

 

(1). Fears health visitors will be target in £200m public health cuts.
11 June 2015. David Williams. Nursing Times
http://www.nursingtimes.net/nursing-practice/specialisms/public-health/fears-health-visitors-will-be-target-in-200m-public-health-cuts/5086770.article

(2). How to get ahead … as a director of public health. The Guardian Tuesday 2 April 2013
http://www.theguardian.com/local-government-network/2013/apr/02/director-of-public-health

(3). p4. Local authorities’ public health responsibilities (England). House of Commons Library (2014)

(4). Health funding cuts could be disastrous. Birmingham Newsroom 05/06/2015
http://birminghamnewsroom.com/health-funding-cuts-could-be-disastrous/

(5). Britain can be better – The Labour Party Manifesto 2015
http://www.labour.org.uk/page/-/BritainCanBeBetter-TheLabourPartyManifesto2015.pdf

(6). The 2013 challenge is to bridge the public health gap. Birmingham Newsroom. 24/12/2012
http://birminghamnewsroom.com/the-2013-challenge-is-to-bridge-the-public-health-gap/

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Save the City Library Service

The struggle to save the community libraries and the Library of Birmingham has been going on for several years now. The campaign over the latter began in the spring of 2013, even before it was opened by Malala in September of that year, against the background of rumours of private control.

Cultural Importance

One aspect of the campaigning has been to highlight the importance of these institutions and to oppose the cultural vandalism of the constant attacks upon them. This has been pioneered by the Friends of the Library of Birmingham, Slaney Street, the young occupiers of the LoB under their slogan of “A People’s Library”, the Friends of Birmingham Archives and Heritage and others. (Links at end)

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The West Midlands Combined Authority Launch Statement: BATC’s response

The Launch Statement of the forthcoming West Midlands Combined Authority, ‘Growing the UK Economy through a Midlands Engine’, was published on 6 July. Its agenda is private sector profit, public sector privatisation and the by-passing of local democracy.

The West Midlands refers to the area covered by the three Local Enterprise Partnerships: the Black Country LEP, the Coventry and Warwickshire LEP, and the Greater Birmingham and Solihull LEP. The WMCA comprises the 7 Metropolitan Councils: Birmingham, Coventry, Dudley, Sandwell, Solihull, Walsall, and Wolverhampton. Negotiations under way with neighbouring County Councils and District Councils could bring the number up to 13.

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Successful Rally against the ‘Procurement for Health’ conference at the ICC, Birmingham 9th July 2015

We want to thank all the 100 or so people that made it a brilliant turn-out in Birmingham yesterday for the Rally against the ‘Procurement for Health’ conference. We made it clear to delegates (and the public) through our leaflet that ‘procurement’ is not a dirty word per se – the NHS needs supplies and it doesn’t need to be ripped off.

The reason we turned up to the ICC is that the organisers were using terms such as “Get into this market worth £20bn” and ‘Never let a good crisis go to waste”. Clearly this was not about the NHS not being ripped off but ripped apart, systematically, as private companies move in to cherry-pick: this event was not just about supplies for the NHS, but about taking services off the NHS.

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From PFI to PF2 – Business as usual for Carillion!

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We cannot give a guarantee that Carillion will not sell their equity investment in the Midland Metropolitan Hospital PF2 in the future.

This was the answer of Richard Samuda, chair of the Sandwell and West Birmingham Hospital Trust to a public question at last week’s Trust AGM and responding to the concern about profiteering by private companies from the sale of assets paid for by the taxpayer.

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Labour Leadership Hustings: Questions for Labour Party members

Urge your Birmingham Labour Councillors to reverse the Library cutbacks

£88.8 million was spent on the New Library; it was opened by Malala and now is an international tourist attraction. Unfortunately the tourists from Sydney, Australia have arrived to find the Library closed. Hundreds of young people and others have turned up on a Sunday or after 5 pm and been turned away expressing considerable frustration. BBC Midlands, ITV, Birmingham Post and Mail have run numerous programmes and reports indicating the anger of many in the Birmingham population in what can only be described as cultural and educational vandalism. Unfortunately the Labour Council has made no case to the government for extra funding to maintain these valuable services.

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Sir Albert: ‘There will be a discontinuation of services that the council currently provides.’

At the public meeting of the Birmingham Improvement Panel on 11th June 2015 Panel members challenged the Council leadership as to how they planned to make further substantial cuts to Council services over the next two years.

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