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Hancock unveils ‘preventing ill-health’ vision but ignores public health cuts

Health and Social Care Secretary Matt Hancock said preventing illness is key to his long-term vision for the NHS.

He urged people in England to cut back on alcohol, sugar, salt and fat in a bid to boost the nation’s healthy life expectancy by five years.

Hancock says that 10 times more money is spent on treating disease than prevention – which “doesn’t stack up”.

“I want to see it as the health service of the nation, helping people to stay healthier,” he said.

Mr Hancock wants people to have five more years of healthy, independent life by 2035. UK life expectancy is currently 82.9 years for women, and 79.2 for men.

The plan also includes ambitions to:

  • halve childhood obesity by 2030
  • reduce loneliness by making “social prescribing” – when doctors or nurses prescribe community activities – more widespread
  • diagnosing 75% of cancers at stages one and two by 2028
  • use technology to predict patients’ illnesses and target advice at sections of the population

Mr Hancock adds: “In the UK, we are spending £97bn of public money on treating disease and only £8bn preventing it across the UK.

“You don’t have to be an economist to see those numbers don’t stack up.”

The announcement, which is being dubbed the government’s “vision”, will be followed up by a Green Paper in 2019 – a first draft of the plans.

Professor Andrew Goddard, president of the Royal College of Physicians, said: “Any strategy to reduce pressure on the NHS is welcome but will only succeed if it tackles health inequalities as an integral part of prevention and public health.

“There was no announcement of extra funding for public health in last week’s Budget. This vital work needs dedicated funding so that it doesn’t eat into the £20.5 billion NHS funding settlement.

Goddard said the government needs to take three measure to improve public health.

Firstly, a more determined approach to reducing smoking; then, introducing a minimum unit price for alcohol; and, finally, introducing stricter legislation on air pollution.

BMA public health committee chair, Dr Peter English, said: “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. Reductions to services such as smoking cessation and sexual health in some areas are directly contributing to unacceptable variations in the quality and quantity of care available to the population.”

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