Childhood obesity in Scarborough: 'The ways we will tackle it will change' says health chief

Photo: Getty Images
Photo: Getty Images

A health boss in charge of battling issues such as childhood obesity for more than 600,000 people in the county has outlined how he intends to run public health services with about 12 per cent less funding - and even work to improve them.

North Yorkshire’s director of public health said the county council was being pro-active early to enable it to minimise the impact on users of services ranging from health visitors and sexual health clinics to treatment for drug and alcohol addiction.

Dr Lincoln Sargent said that while public health interventions produced returns of £4 for every pound invested, the county’s service had been forced to manage on the same £25m budget since responsibility for them was transferred to the council from the NHS in 2013, and was now facing a cut of millions of pounds.

Following a recent report which found one in four children in Scarborough were overweight before starting school, Dr Sargent said it was plain a lot more work needed to be done to tackle eating and exercise habits.

Dr Sargent said: “We are going to try our very best to maintain the good work that we are doing. We will try to preserve the things that we think are absolutely necessary for a safe and effective service.

"We are committed to supporting families where obesity is a challenge, but the ways it is done will change.”

He said while advisors currently work with children at their homes over 12 weeks, in future after initial assessments group sessions might be more appropriate for most children.

He added that it was clear significant savings would have to be made in services which made up the highest proportion of the public health budget, such as universal health visitor visits for children from birth to five. Dr Sargent said while the service saw all children receive five face-to-face visits, some people may not need so many, while others may need more.

Dr Sargent said the council wanted to “get away from having a magical number of visits, which does not allow an individualised approach or for clinical judgements”.

The authority will also look at how it can work more closely with other services which are also seeing children to avoid unnecessary duplication.

Dr Sargent said a recently published Green Paper had signalled a greater use of technology and the council would explore the possibility of some virtual visits and other ways of offering support to families.

He said such a change could be particularly important in England’s largest county, where health visitors spend significant amounts of time travelling.

Dr Sargent said while any easing of the cuts would be welcome, the extra funding would not mean public health services would stop striving for best value for money.