Public health services are disrupted as the pandemic leaves staff ‘exhausted’

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Public health workers are suffering from burnout as Covid-19 enters its third year, leaving gaps in the workforce as transmission rates rise, councils warned today.

Councils fear staff have been stretched thin by the pressure of tackling the pandemic in local communities over the past two years, with local authorities struggling to recruit and retain staff.

A survey of councils by the Local Government Association found that more than half say their public health services are operating with disruption due to staff shortages.

A sixth said public health was one of the areas most at risk from understaffing.

The LGA and the Association of Directors of Public Health (ADPH), which are holding their annual virtual public health conference today and tomorrow, are calling for greater government support to enable councils to retain and recruit leaders public health premises.

David Fothergill (Con), Chairman of the LGA Community Wellbeing Council, said: “Local public health teams have gone above and beyond over the past two years to support their communities during the pandemic.

“It is clear that staff are exhausted by this effort and there are growing gaps in the public health workforce.”

He added: “Although restrictions have been eased in England, community transmission is on the rise again and unfortunately Covid-19 has not gone away.

“To deal with this – alongside the wide range of services they provide, such as tackling childhood obesity and treating addiction – councils need a real increase in their public health grant as well as long-term financing assurances from the government.

“Our report clearly shows how work to protect and improve health and wellbeing has grown significantly since the transfer of public health responsibilities to local councils.

“With the right support, local public health services can keep our communities healthy and keep the pressure on our NHS and strained care systems.”

The LGA said its analysis showed the public health grant had been cut by 24% in real terms since 2015-16, equivalent to a total cut of £1billion.

Local public health boards and directors are calling on the government to commit to long-term funding increases, including an extension of the outbreak management fund, so that public health departments can retain the expertise they they have accumulated during the pandemic and can support addressing future variants.

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