Former public health director confronts ex-Tory minister over NHS budget cuts

Professor Gabriel Scally (left) and ex-Tory minister David Gauke (right) on Newsnight

Professor Gabriel Scally (left) and ex-Tory minister David Gauke (right) on Newsnight - Credit: Archant

Former regional health director Gabriel Scally has confronted an ex-Tory minister, blaming a decade of government cuts for failure to control the coronavirus outbreak.

Scally told Newsnight that 10 years of continuous Tory cuts to public health budgets had left the NHS 'emaciated' and incapable of carrying out mass contact tracing at the start of the coronavirus outbreak.

But David Gauke, who served as chief secretary to the Treasury under Theresa May, argued that cuts were necessary to combat government debt levels which rose during the global financial crisis.

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He said: 'The public finances in 2010 were in a terrible state but we need to look at our focus on resilience to ensure we are able to deal with these matters and I think a greater focus on resilience is clearly going to be important.'

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Scally disagreed: 'I think that's nonsense... The resilience has been stripped systematically out of the system, you cannot, when a big problem like this hits, you can't just reinvent things and put them back the way you wish they were.

'If you make the system as lean and emaciated as it is there will not be the public health staff there, there will not be the health visitors, there will not be the environmental health officers and you can't magic them up out of nowhere.

'Simply testing key workers, health service workers and the over 65s really won't cut it, so it needs to be a comprehensive programme.'

Presenter Emma Barnett highlighted that the the Public Health grant, which helps fund NHS trusts, shrunk by £871.6 over five years.

Scally's appearance was praised on Twitter. Julie Capaldi wrote: 'Thank you and so glad you had the final word! Very insightful even though Gauke tried to blame cuts on the previous labour govt (again).'

Patrick Neveling posted: 'Thanks so much for this,@GabrielScally, for not putting up with your conversant's nonsense statements about resilience. The way out of this crisis begins with all of us no longer allowing hollow phrases such as Gauke's resort to 'resilience' to dominate public debate.'

Chester University governance professor Andrew Corbett-Nolan likened the cuts to a hole in a bucket. He wrote: 'The cuts in public health (which was in the first place was painfully under-funded) were refined stupidity. It was like having a hole in a bucket, then throwing away what's left of the bucket and keeping the hole.'

Contact tracing was used to track, trace and isolate people who had come into contact with the virus. This strategy was partially abandoned in favour of a lockdown in March.

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