28 February 2012

NICE "Key" to Delivering Public Health Services

NICE will play a key role in helping local authorities create an integrated public health service underpinned by evidence on what health measures work, say experts.

Local authorities are preparing to take over the role of commissioning some public health services from Primary Care Trusts from April 2013.

Speaking during the NICE public health webinar yesterday, Dr Frank Atherton, Director of Public Health, NHS North Lancashire and President of the Association of Directors of Public Health, said that NICE was needed to lead on providing evidence to local authorities.

“The big issue is to create an integrated public health system with evidence at its fingertips. NICE will be key. If it didn't exist then we would have to invent it,” he said.

Susan Biddle, formerly Head of Healthy Communities at the LGA, added: “Local authorities will want to look at the evidence for what works and to understand how best to use the evidence to reduce health inequalities.”

Professor Mike Kelly, Director of Public Health at NICE and facilitator of the webinar, said that NICE was already busy preparing this evidence base for councils by developing local government public health briefings.

NICE public health briefings will make it easier for Directors of Public Health, elected members and senior officers in local authorities to find out which public health actions are most effective whilst also providing the best value for money.

The briefings will raise awareness and provide information about the existing evidence-based recommendations and evidence reviews from NICE that local government can call upon when commissioning public health services.

They will focus on a broad range of topics covering some of the major issues facing today's society, such as alcohol misuse, smoking, physical activity and obesity.

The first of the briefings is expected to be published in June this year.

Although the move to transfer public health to local authorities was welcomed by the panel of experts, they cautioned that the move is likely to cause some variation in the quality and types of services on offer across England.

“Some councils may deprioritise areas like alcohol services as they focus on other areas. In fact, some Health and Wellbeing boards are already being encouraged to prioritise only three or four key areas,” said Ms Biddle.

Rachel Flowers, Director of Public Health for the London Borough of Newham, said: “Many of the contracts for services that are moving over from the NHS are tied in for a couple of years. So there will be a transition stage. We are going to see the picture gradually evolving over time but variation may occur.”

During the webinar, the audience of nearly 200 people were asked a series of questions about the biggest challenges in public health and proposed plans to tackle them.

Over half of the audience stated that obesity is the biggest challenge facing local communities, followed by substance misuse and then smoking.

The vast majority of the audience, 94 per cent, believe that public health should be given a ring-fenced budget.

Additionally, 87 per cent of people said that the government's responsibility deal will not work. The panel of experts argued that the deal needed to work alongside a wider set of public health measures.

To hear more on managing the transition of public health services, book your tickets for the NICE Annual Conference 2012.

Taking place on the 15-16 May at the ICC in Birmingham, the conference will feature a dedicated public health stream, as well as a panel discussion on day one on how the NHS and Public Health England will fit together.