TB epidemic fear as public health services in Hackney face cuts

A doctor writing down female patient's symptoms. Picture: PA/Thinkstockphotos.

A doctor writing down female patient's symptoms. Picture: PA/Thinkstockphotos. - Credit: PA

Fears are mounting that TB could be on the rise again in Hackney after it emerged this week that public health services could be permanently cut after coming under local authority control.

Under the move, two services – tuberculosis (TB) testing and smoking cessation clinics – have been earmarked for closure.

In an email which has been seen by the Gazette, the borough’s GPs were told by Hackney Council that these services “will not be rolled over into 2013 to 14”.

The move prompts fears that TB rates in the borough – which were the fourth highest in London in 2011 – could increase if the TB service is cut. The dangerous disease is highly infectious and can be spread through coughing and sneezing. Over the last 20 years, TB rates have increased in the UK and London now has higher rates than any other city in Europe. The service funds testing of people from high risk countries such as North Korea, South Africa and Angola.

Professor Chris Griffiths, who led research which showed general practice was the best place to screen for tuberculosis, said cutting the service would be a regressive step. He said: “As part of my research we carried out a big trial which included all the practices in Hackney.

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“Hackney is the only borough where TB rates have come down over the last few years. That is down to the screening in general practice. The TB Locally Enhanced Service (LES) has been successful. I don’t want it cut.

“Tuberculosis is one of the most dangerous infectious diseases in the world and the rate of drug resistance is rising rapidly. We can’t let it get out of control.”

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Hackney also has one of the highest chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) rates in the country and the third highest rate in London. Smoking is understood to be the main cause of COPD and smoking clinics are used to tackle the problem.

Professor Griffiths added: “I would say that smoking is the leading cause of COPD. There’s pretty much good evidence that smoking cessation clinic work.”

Dr Nick Mann, of Well Street surgery in Shore Road, Hackney said: “It seems a very retrogressive step to withdraw TB and smoking services when COPD is such a big problem in Hackney. The lack of join-up between clinical led services and budget driven cuts can only widen as responsibility falls on the local authority rather than the CCG.”

A spokeswoman from Hackney Council said: “The two current projects will continue until July 2013. We are currently planning the next projects and GPs are involved with this.”

She insisted that the “projects” will be replaced.

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