Reorganisation of UK health protection could worsen inequalities, experts warn

Dental associations have banded together with other healthcare groups to voice concerns over inequalities following the reorganisation of health protectionDental associations have banded together with other healthcare groups to voice concerns over the reorganisation of health protection.

The British Dental Association (BDA) and Oral Health Foundation are just two of more than 70 organisations that back the statement.

In a joint campaign to the Prime Minister, the Secretary of State for Health and the leadership of Public Health England (PHE), the groups warn that ‘reorganisation risks fragmentation’.

This comes as the government confirms PHE will be disbanded and replaced by a National Institute of Health Protection.

Reduce health inequalities

As a result, the groups call on the survival of pledges to reduce inequalities, improve mental health, reduce obesity and end smoking.

Launched yesterday (2 September), the statement outlines the key principles that all signatories believe should inform the new health improvement system.

For example:

  • Sufficient funding at all levels to meet the ambitions of improving population health
  • Sufficient high-quality public health experts with the authority to deliver PHE’s functions of providing evidence-based advice, guidance and quality assurance
  • A strong health intelligence function to support delivery of health improvement as well as health protection
  • An interconnected approach with the right infrastructure to support national, regional and local service delivery
  • Improved coordination between the NHS and local government
  • Clear accountability for reducing health inequalities at every level of the system
  • Finally, strong relationships between the public health functions of all four nations in the UK.

Seamless transition

The statement reads: ‘The rationale for establishing PHE was to end false distinctions between different parts of the public health system.

‘Reorganisation risks fragmentation across different risk factors. As well as between health protection and health improvement. Organisational change is difficult and can be damaging at the best of times. And these are not the best of times.

‘A seamless transition from the current to the new system is essential. The communities hit hardest by COVID-19 are those with the poorest health.

‘Chronic noncommunicable diseases are still, and will remain, responsible for the overwhelming burden of preventable death and disease in this country.’

Other organisations involved include the British Medical Association (BMA) and the Faculty of Public Health.

You can read the full statement here.

Author’s analysis

Given that many health matters were placed on the back-burner during the first COVID-19 peak, it is perhaps unsurprising that many healthcare organisations fear inequalities will widen.

If a second wave does hit this winter, many concerns mentioned – including obesity, smoking and mental health – may not receive the attention they so desperately need.

This is not the first time the dental profession has spoken out over the agency’s disbandment.

When the government announced it would be scrapping PHE, we spoke to Robert Witton, a consultant in dental public health.

He said that oral health is an already neglected specialty. He added that vulnerable groups are most likely to pay the price.

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