The Government must match its vision with funding and reverse public health cuts, leading doctors have warned, as plans for an updated NHS strategy focusing on prevention over cure are revealed today.
Health and Social Care Secretary Matt Hancock will address the Annual Meeting of the International Association of National Public Health Institutes, where he is expected to underline how the new long-term plan for the health service will aim to stop people slipping into poor health.
Announcing a green paper, called Prevention is better than cure, detailing the vision for a “new 21st century focus on prevention”, he will argue for a shift towards primary and community care services and a sharp focus on early support.
The UK is now spending £97bn from the public purse on treating disease but just £8bn on preventing it, Mr Hancock is expected to tell the meeting during his keynote speech.
While the British Medical Association (BMA) trade union welcomed the move, it has today warned that the Government must be realistic and match its hopes with funding.
Dr Peter English, BMA public health committee chairman, said: “While the plans outlined in this paper are a welcome step, the government must be realistic about what must be required in order to deliver this.
“There is a need to reverse the cuts to public health budgets, as in many areas, public health services do not adequately meet the health needs of the local population.”
He said that cuts to services like smoking cessation and sexual health have directly contributed to “unacceptable variations” quality and quantity available to patients in some areas.
Mr English added: “Prevention is a win-win both in the obvious impact it has on the health of the population and its cost effectiveness in reducing future demand on NHS services.
"The government has a duty to deliver on this.”
The latest NHS strategy comes just days after the Chancellor Philip Hammond pledged £20.5bn to fund the health service over the next five years.
The Government’s ambitions to improve public health include reducing loneliness, halving childhood obesity by 2030 and diagnosing three quarters of cancers at stages 1 and 2 by 2028.
Focusing on prevention will help to tackle health inequality, Mr Hancock is expected to tell the meeting today.
“It can’t be right that today, in England, a boy born in the poorest parts of our country will die nine years earlier, and live 19 more years in poor health, than a boy born in the richest areas,” he will say.
“That’s why prevention matters. That’s why we need a new 21st century focus on prevention.”
The shift towards prevention has also been praised by the Royal College of Nursing, which reiterated the call for serious investment at a local level.
Following the announcement, Paul Edwards, director of clinical services at Dementia UK, called for better diagnostic support when it comes to dementia.
He said: “Whilst the Health Secretary’s focus on prevention is a step in the right direction it does not take into account the thousands of people living with long-term health conditions right now. Having proper post diagnostic support in place helps not only these people, but also benefits the NHS which is languishing in a time of reduced resources and a lack of understanding around life-limiting conditions, especially in the case of dementia."
Mr Edwards also praised social prescribing becoming a priority, but warned that a "joined-up system" was needed to reap the benefits.
He added: "The Government needs to follow up its rhetoric with solid proposals, and that includes expanding the number of specialist nurses across the system, but especially in primary care where post diagnostic support remains a postcode lottery.”