Local authority health duties

Local authorities’ statutory responsibilities for public health services are set out in the Health and Social Care Act 2012. The Act conferred new duties on local authorities to improve public health. It abolished primary care trusts and transferred much of their responsibility for public health to local authorities from 1 April 2013.

From this date local authorities have had a new duty to take such steps as they consider appropriate for improving the health of the people in their areas. Local authorities also inherited responsibility for a range of public health services previously provided by the NHS including most sexual health services and services to address drug or alcohol misuse.

One of the aims of transferring public health responsibilities to local authorities was to better integrate health and social care services and other activities that affect health such as housing and maintenance of public spaces. For example, Health and Wellbeing Boards, hosted by local authorities, have a duty to encourage integrated working. The 2012 Act also placed a duty on NHS England and clinical commissioning groups to ensure that organisations work together to improve outcomes for people.

In addition to these public health responsibilities, local authority social services have existing duties to provide welfare services such as residential accommodation for those who are in need of care, because of age, illness or disability, which they cannot otherwise obtain. Primary health needs continue to be met by the NHS.  

Since 1 April 2013, Public Health England (PHE), has also been in place to provide evidence, advice and support to local authorities about fulfilling their new public health responsibilities. PHE was established as an executive agency of the Department of Health to bring together public health specialists from more than 70 organisations, including Health Protection England, into a single public health service. Further information about the role and responsibilities of PHE is available on its website.