The creation of a ‘false economy’ in the NHS could be costing the healthcare system billions, according to a newly published review.
A submission to the Journal of Epidemiology & Community Health said every pound spent on public health returns an extra £14 on the original investment. The report concluded that recent cuts to the health service made no sense in light of this figure.
Public health is often perceived as a ‘soft target’ for cuts, so researchers Rebecca Masters, Elspeth Anwar, Brendan Collins, Richard Cookson and Simon Capewell decided to look at the average return on investment (ROI) for a range of public health interventions.
They identified 52 suitable studies published over four decades that had calculated an ROI for local and national public health initiatives and/or had worked out the overall value for money of a project or proposal — known as the cost-benefit ratio (CBR).
Data from these studies showed that the average ROI for a public health initiative was 14.3 for every unit cost spent on it, while the average CBR was 8.3.
The researchers said that their results ‘clearly demonstrate that public health interventions are cost-saving, both to health services as well as the wider economy,’ who point out that some interventions, such as falls prevention, can produce substantial returns within six to 12 months.
Furthermore, they calculated that the recent £200 million cuts to public health funding in the UK will cost eight times as much – £1.6 billion.
‘The UK government’s ‘efficiency savings’ represent a false economy which will generate many billions in additional future costs to the ailing NHS and wider UK economy,’ they said. ‘The recent UK increases in avoidable teen pregnancies, sexually transmitted infections, homelessness and suicides are predictable and worrying. Do they represent harbingers of worse to come?’