The journal says that local authority-run parks and green spaces are among a range of cash-strapped departments whose budgets were topped up by healthcare money, including trading standards, citizens’ advice bureaux, domestic abuse services, housing and sport and leisure centres.
Since the Government transferred public health services, budgets and staff from the NHS to local authorities in April 2013 under the Health and Social Care Act 2012 the ringfenced public health budgets have not been slashed like other sources of Government funding.
Transferring some to ensure parks are kept open and welcoming has been the goal of many parks professionals for some time. Their argument, that parks, green spaces, community gardens and allotments contribute to better general mental and physical health, is backed up by a growing canon of academic reports.
The Government and national authority, Public Health England support the use of public health grants for projects which support wider public health and part of the thinking behind the change was a desire to move more towards prevention.
However medical professionals are concerned that public health’s voice may be drowned out in local government. One leading clinician told the BMJ that councils were "robbing Peter to pay Paul."
According to the BMJ report Sunderland's local authority plans to recommission services for smoking cessation, substance misuse, weight management, and sexual health into one integrated contract, saving money which can be spent on parks and allotments among other priorities.