The public health White Paper – Healthy Lives, Healthy People: Our strategy for public health in England – was published on 30th November by the Department of Health. The paper states that ‘localism will be at the heart’ of a new public health system ‘with responsibilities, freedoms and funding devolved wherever possible’. Directors of Public Health will be the ‘strategic leaders’ in local communities, working in partnership with the NHS and the public, private and voluntary sectors. The paper confirms there will be ring-fenced public health funding from within the NHS budget, with ring-fenced budgets for upper-tier and unitary local authorities. A new public health service, Public Health England, will have responsibility for the budget estimated at over £4billion.
The paper makes several specific references to drug and alcohol use and states that the Department of Health will align funding streams on drug and alcohol treatment ‘across the community and in criminal justice settings’. Confirming the emphasis in the recent drug strategy consultation document on recovery, the paper states that ‘funding will incentivise recovery outcomes while maintaining key public health measures such as needle exchange schemes’ (para. 3.41, page 42).
In line with announcements made by the Justice Secretary and in the coalition’s Programme for Government, the paper states that ‘it is critical that, where appropriate, people are diverted from the criminal justice system to health services’ to receive treatment for drug and alcohol misuse and mental health problems.
The health outcomes of young people are also given a prominent hearing in the paper, with special focus put on prevention. Stating that teenagers are the biggest risk takers, the paper states the policy will aim to strengthen teens’ ability to take control of their lives, and reduce the susceptibility to harmful influences such as drugs and alcohol.
Martin Barnes, Chief Executive of DrugScope said:
“The government announced in the summer that it will be developing a holistic approach to drug policy, and we are awaiting the forthcoming publication of the drug strategy to set out more detail – however, in today’s white paper, we have a clearer picture of how drug and alcohol misuse is viewed within a public health approach.
“The paper demonstrates the commitment to working with young people to prevent them from misusing drugs and alcohol – it is crucial that this is both evidence-based and appropriately resourced. We welcome the recognition of the need to tackle the health inequalities, including higher rates of substance misuse, that disproportionately affect poorer communities.
“Diversions from the criminal justice system are to be welcomed, but the resource pressure this will place on the drug and alcohol treatment sector needs to be recognised. We welcome the specific mention of needle exchange schemes within the White Paper as a recognition of the important role such services play in prevention, improving public health and engaging people towards treatment and recovery.”