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Is an ounce of prevention worth a pound of cure? A cross-sectional study of the impact of English public health grant on mortality and morbidity

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JournalBMJ Open
DateAccepted/In press - 17 Aug 2020
DatePublished (current) - 10 Oct 2020
Issue number10
Number of pages12
Original languageEnglish


OBJECTIVES: The UK government is proposing to cease cutting the local authority public health grant by reallocating part of the treatment budget to preventative activity. This study examines whether this proposal is evidenced based and, in particular, whether these resources are best reallocated to prevention, or whether this expenditure would generate more health gains if used for treatment.

METHODS: Instrumental variable regression methods are applied to English local authority data on mortality, healthcare and public health expenditure to estimate the responsiveness of mortality to variations in healthcare and public health expenditure in 2013/14. Using a well-established method, these mortality results are converted to a quality-adjusted life year (QALY) basis, and this facilitates the estimation of the cost per QALY for both National Health Service (NHS) healthcare and local public health expenditure.

RESULTS: Saving lives and improving the quality of life requires resources. Our estimates suggest that each additional QALY costs about £3800 from the local public health budget, and that each additional QALY from the NHS budget costs about £13 500. These estimates can be used to calculate the number of QALYs generated by a budget boost. If we err on the side of caution and use the most conservative estimates that we have, then an additional £1 billion spent on public health will generate 206 398 QALYs (95% CI 36 591 to 3 76 205 QALYs), and an additional £1 billion spent on healthcare will generate 67 060 QALYs (95% CI 21 487 to 112 633 QALYs).

CONCLUSIONS: Additional public health expenditure is very productive of health and is more productive than additional NHS expenditure. However, both types of expenditure are more productive of health than the norms used by National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (£20 000-£30 000 per QALY) to judge whether new therapeutic technologies are suitable for adoption by the NHS.

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© Author(s) (or their employer(s)) 2020. Re-use permitted under CC BY-NC. No commercial re-use. See rights and permissions. Published by BMJ.

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