Prevention is better than cure we are told by one Health Secretary, who gives the following advice: ‘People must take more responsibility for their own health by eating less, stopping smoking and taking more exercise.’ These are Matt Hancock’s words of wisdom as he unveils a strategy to give everyone an extra five years of healthy living by 2035.
At present, boys can expect a healthy life expectancy of 63 .5 years with another 16 years in poor health. Girls can expect 64 years of healthy life plus 19 years of illness. Mr Hancock wants to use the technique of ‘predictive prevention’, where government data is used to target different messages at those to whom it is likely to apply. For example, pregnant women in Blackpool would receive stop smoking messages because the data shows pregnant women in Blackpool are much more likely to smoke than elsewhere.
The Health Secretary will call on GPs and other community services to step up to the plate to take the pressure off hospitals. However, he will also say prevention is about ensuring people take greater responsibility for managing their own health. ‘It’s about people choosing to look after themselves better, staying active and stopping smoking: Making better choices by limiting alcohol, sugar, salt and fat.’
The Health Secretary will add: ‘And the reason why getting prevention right really matters is because it’s the only way we can tackle health inequality.’ Mr Hancock will say prevention will be at the heart of an NHS long-term plan due later this year. In turn the NHS will do more to identify and tackle the root causes of poor health by using genomics, working with employers and improving housing.
Mr Hancock will also announce that the government is to put forward realistic but ambitious goals to bring salt levels down further by Easter. The Health Secretary will say: ‘We are spending 97 billion pounds of public money on treating disease and only 8 billion pounds preventing it across the UK. You don’t have to be an accountant to see those numbers don’t stack up.’
Duncan Selbey, Chief Executive of Public Health England said: ‘Investing in prevention is the smartest thing we can do. We need to move from a system that detects and treats illnesses to one that also predicts and prevents poor health through promoting health in all policies and puts people back in charge of their own health.’
Helen Donovan, Public Health Lead at the Royal College of Nursing, said: ‘We welcome the fact that the Health Secretary is making prevention a priority. But Mr Hancock must realise his plans will start at a disadvantage as local authorities struggle with planned cuts to public health budgets of almost 4% per year until 2021. While it’s clear, she says as optional extras we need to see properly funded accountable services delivered by a fully staffed nursing workforce backed by adequate resources.
Prevention will certainly make matters easier for the NHS as long as it is properly organised and adequately financed.