Reasons to be cheerful?
When the government published Prevention is better than cure - Our vision to help you live well for longer last November, we welcomed its key message. Yes, prevention is crucial to improving the health of the whole population, and helping secure the health and social care services we all value and rely on.
It was a message that echoed our own founding vision. As we identified from the start, more focus on prevention could save millions of people from suffering avoidable illness, reduce pressure on hospitals and GPs and keep the NHS affordable.
But question marks are emerging
We're now eight months on. Will the government maintain the commitment it expressed in its November vision paper? Unfortunately question marks are already emerging:
- Boris Johnson, who may be our next Prime Minister by the time you read this, has announced he plans to review so-called 'sin taxes' intended to reduce the risk of illness. This is despite a) evidence that these taxes work and b) questions about the influence of business lobbyists on his decision.
- Meanwhile Cancer Research UK advises us that the government has recently decided to cut the Public Heath England (PHE) awareness-raising budgets from £34 million to £27 million a year. These budgets are used to fund a range of national health marketing campaigns, including those that aim to encourage people to quit smoking and increase awareness of the signs and symptoms of cancer.
What action is needed?
We hope the government will recognise that it makes more sense to prevent people falling ill in the first place rather than wait until they fall ill and then treat them. That’s why we believe the government needs to:
- Make healthy choices the easy choices for people – for example by ensuring healthier food and drink are more widely available, by increasing opportunities for mental and physical activity and by continued initiatives to make it easier to stop smoking and to keep alcohol consumption to reasonably safe levels.
- Focus on child health – because what happens to us in the early years of life from conception onwards can influence our mental and physical health for years to come.
- Provide greater support for those at risk – to avoid health inequalities being carried forward from one generation to another. All the evidence is that growing up in a deprived area predisposes people to experience more years of chronic illness and to die younger.
- Ensure we develop a true National HEALTH Service, which gives higher priority to preventing illness, not simply treating it. That means giving higher priority to prevention in the medical school curriculum, in the continuing professional development of health professionals, in medical careers and in clinical commissioning decisions.
So, with our fingers firmly crossed, we continue to look forward to the government publishing its planned Green Paper on Prevention, setting out how it will encourage a preventative approach to maintaining the nation's health.
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