Health December 6, 2018
Report enforces policy agenda for prevention and public health

By Daniel Male - Accountable Care Journal

A new report from leading think tank, the King’s Fund, claims that improvements in health ‘can no longer be taken for granted. ’ Does this spell the start of a new public health agenda? And what does this mean for traditional models of health and care?

The report presents a clear warning that without radical change, progress in improving the population’s health is at risk of grinding to a halt. Despite generational improvements in health over the last century, where life expectancy and healthy life expectancy has increased, concerns raised by the King’s Fund suggest that progress has stalled.

Infant mortality, adult obesity rates and life expectancy for those living with illness and disease are all areas which are no longer seeing the improvements we have witnessed in the past.

What about health inequalities?

The report stipulates that the gap in health outcomes between the rich and the poor is widening, with women in Wokingham expecting to enjoy 17 extra years of healthy life compared to women in Manchester. This is due to a number of variables including socio-economic lifestyle factors such as housing, diet and working conditions, as well as education, social life and job security.

Does this mean we need to focus on prevention?

The message in the report couldn’t be clearer; the health challenges faced in England cannot be addressed by the NHS alone. The King’s Fund is certainly advocating a renewed focus on prevention. But what does this mean for existing health systems and where do NHS Trusts have a responsibility to deliver social interventions?

The report authors call on the Government to use next year’s Spending Review to reverse cuts to public health grants. Currently, local authority spending per head on public health services is on track to fall by almost a quarter in real terms between 2014/15 and 2019/20.

Other recommendations to improve the population’s health include: 

  • Introducing binding national targets for improving health, backed by a new strategy to reduce health inequalities.
  • Making bolder use of tax and regulation to support public health, learning lessons from the successful approach to cutting smoking and the recent levy on soft drinks.
  • Strong political leadership to ensure that improving the population’s health and reducing health inequalities are priorities across government, as well as the health and care system.
  • Local politicians should champion population health by working with the NHS and other agencies to improve the health of their constituents.

David Buck, Senior Fellow at The King’s Fund and lead author of the report, said: “A new vision for the population’s health is needed that pays more attention to the wider determinants of health and the role of people and communities. The NHS long-term plan is important to this end but can’t do it alone. ”

He also called upon the government to “reverse cuts to local government public health budgets and make tackling health inequalities a central aim. ” This report comes ahead of the eagerly awaited NHS Long Term Plan which will look at the entire sector and set out the agenda going forward.

The report has been welcomed by the British Medical Association (BMA), with Chair of the Public Health Committee Dr Peter English, commenting: “People living in the most deprived areas are too often subject to a higher prevalence of preventable illnesses. It is vital, therefore, that the wider societal factors that influence people’s health behaviours are addressed. ”

The tide is seemingly turning as local councils look to implement strategies that back up the contents of this report. However, this long-term view will likely be thrown into question once again as winter pressures present themselves over the coming months.

The full report can be found here.

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