Public Health England told to make better use of value-for-money data

Written by Jim Dunton on 21 April 2017 in News

Review suggests priorities and spending decisions should be “more explicitly informed” by the return they provide on investment

Public Health England chief executive Duncan Selbie CREDIT: Photoshot

Public Health England needs to increase its use of economic data in determining the different policies and interventions it uses to encourage healthier behaviour among the public, an official review has recommended.

A Department of Health report said issues such as obesity, smoking, and alcohol-consumption were estimated to cost the NHS more than £10bn a year, but its health-protection and wellbeing agency had “more to do” to ensure that its spending decisions were based on robust data on the results they would deliver.

The “tailored review” on progress required of PHE accepted the executive agency had been “taking steps” to increase its ability to provide economic data and analysis of the impact of public health initiatives – including appointing a chief economist in 2015. But it said further improvement was required.

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“Decisions on priorities and resource allocations – both within PHE and by the key customers (national government, local government and the NHS) it supports – should be more explicitly informed by appropriate return on investment and value for money data,” it said.

“PHE and DH analysts should also work more closely together to make best use of their combined resources.”

PHE was created as part of former health secretary Andrew Lansley’s coalition government-era reforms of health provision, and brought together 100 different organisations – the largest of which was the Health Protection Agency.

The review was overseen by a project board chaired by NHS Blood and Transplant chief executive John Pattullo. 

Its overall finding was that the PHE is making good progress with integration work since it came into being in April 2013, however the call for better use of value-for-money data was one of 11 recommendations for improvement.

Other areas where action was suggested included streamlining of reporting and decision-making lines to address “long and complex management chains within PHE” that were reported as “potentially undermining clarity”.

The review also urged PHE to develop a plan to build capability that would allow it to “work more effectively” with DH and other departments to support policy development on public health issues.

It said the plan should be produced within three months and address how policymakers could be helped with PHE expertise in behavioural science and consumer behaviours, as well as addressing capability for trialling and evaluating innovative new approaches.

Another recommendation urged PHE to work with the Cabinet Office and DH to better understand the scope for income generation and cost reduction through additional active contract management. 

Areas for research include assessing the potential of marketing the intellectual property of PHE-generated campaigns, such as the “Stoptober” quit-smoking drive, to international clients.

The report authors said that while the “international reputation” of such work had created a commercial opportunity to share thinking and approaches abroad, it could consume “valuable management time” and would only succeed with adequate resources.

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Jim Dunton
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