During the COVID19 pandemic, a lot of routine health provision has been suspended or reduced. As we plan to get get these back on track, lets not put prevention at the end of the  list, yet again. The SHA convened a group of its members with relevant expertise , who have developed a briefing on the risks to the public of the temporary reduction of prevention programs.

Key Messages

  • Childhood vaccination programme: the recent increase in vaccination coverage after a long fall has now been thrown into jeopardy by COVID19, with little resilience in primary care and public health departments to systematically and actively promote catch up programmes.
  • Measles: there would be a significant risk of measles outbreaks because MMR coverage in England among children was well below the threshold required for herd immunity in most areas. Measles is highly infectious with an R0 of 16
  • Influenza vaccination programmes for children and adults will begin in September. It is vital to achieve a much higher uptake, to reduce the risks of having to manage a flu epidemic while COVID19 is still circulating.
  • Screening services should restart as soon as possible, with safety measures in place for patients and staff, and a plan for catching up all who have missed out
  • Sexual health and contraception: there is a serious risk of losing the excellent gains of the last Labour Government’s Sexual Health and Teenage Pregnancy strategies, after major cuts in the public health grant. We need a new sexual health strategy with a return to planning and collaboration rather than tendering of services
  • Prevention spend: The Government should restore public health expenditure in England to at least previous levels

Prevention is so much better than cure: There are many prevention programmes designed to prevent and detect diseases at an early stage to stop them causing death and illness. These are some of the most highly cost-effective healthcare interventions; a review by NICE found that 85% of 200 case estimates of prevention programmes were cost effective. Vaccination programmes are the most cost-effective healthcare interventions

Amazing efforts by staff: During the COVID19 pandemic, many services have been impacted through being suspended, or by reducing services. Some may also have been affected by the public reducing their uptake. Staff in public health programmes have been going to heroic lengths to deal with the pandemic while keeping essential preventive services going

The paltry and reducing investment in prevention and early diagnosis is now under greater threat There is a high risk that prevention programmes will lose out for investment when finances are reduced, as will happen during the coming recession. Many of these programmes have already been deeply affected by austerity, in particular those commissioned by Local Authorities in England.

Recovery plans: The NHS is attempting to restart, and this must be fully funded and adhere to principles of patient and staff safety and equity.  There has been a lot of great local integration and innovation in the face of a common threat, and this must be nurtured and not used as an excuse for cutting costs. Digital ways of working are not cheaper and not a replacement for face to face in many situations long term

Emerging public health risks of suspending public health programmes FINAL

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