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Health bites

by Owen Temple on January 29, 2013

Not food – just some tit-bits from yesterday’s Health Scrutiny Committee, or the Adults, Wellbeing and Health Overview and Scrutiny Committee if you want to give it it’s full title.

Great News. Government has kept it’s word and protected Durham’s Public Health budget, allocating £44.5 million for 2013/14 and £45.8 million for 2014/15. This is as was promised, and whilst the council does have legitimate concerns about the future budget, there’s no doubt that it has been shamelessly scaremongering on the subject. They’ll sing the song of “Government bashes the North” when it suits them. They ought to have the good grace to admit it when the North gets a “better than fair” deal.

The catch. Currently nearly four times as much is spent on public health measures for every man woman or child in County Durham as is spent in some other areas. Of course we need reasonable spending on public health because we live in an area of high need – we need more than some leafy suburbs whether in Cheshire or Cheltenham – but no-one, no-one, can defend the fairness of the current allocations. The current allocations give amongst the highest spend per head to the golden mile that is the City of London, and amongst the lowest to the East Riding of Yorkshire which contains some very needy communities; the current allocations give three times as much spending per head to Middlesborough as they do to Northumberland, though no-one would claim Blyth or Ashington are leafy suburbs.

The solution. Government and councils will have to work together to create a formula which properly reflects the health needs of different areas. That meeans we need to make our case to the independent committee which is working on the formula. Of course we must fight our corner in that, Durham needs its fair share, but if all our council does is to seek to protect a system which is indefensible and portray any change as a savage political attack it will deserve the contempt it will get from those who are seeking a more justifiable system.

Children’s Therapy Services to be revamped. Speech and Language Therapy, Occupational Therapy and Physiotherapy are to undergo thorough change. There have been serious concerns about waiting times, inconsistency of provision and services not properly matched to the changing profile of need. As a result contracts will be re-drawn and put out to tender again. The cost should not change, but the intention is to provide a greatly improved service.

Good progress is being made in a number of areas – cancer screening is up, the need for re-admission of older patients to hospital is down, fewer people are needing to go into residential & nursing care a support in their homes increases. The major downside area is breast-feeding where County Durham continues to lag behind both regional and national numbers.

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