Devolving the control of healthcare to local organisations endangers the UK’s rising public health crisis, argues wellness consultancy Vielife’s chief medical officer Dr Tony Massey.
The government’s decision to devolve control of health will not solve the UK’s rising health crisis as it stands. A lack of central guidance, education and cohesive provision of services to ensure better health could well leave many expensive health investments delivering far less returns to society than hoped.
Handing people their own control over health and letting them get on with it will not trigger a healthy society nor take pressure off public health funds. Money will still be spent with less to show in real health improvement. The public health purse will remain under pressure while critical issues that drain the UK’s human capital – including reduced productivity - remain.
I agree that employers, local communities and a newly defined structure of health provisioning can all be part of successful delivery, but guidance and direction is critical, and that is lacking.
Treating the UK as one large organisation illustrates some of the steps required in improving health and wellness. Individual organisations that excel at achieving employee wellness and make real financial improvements as a result are those that live and breathe a directed healthy culture from top to bottom and invest money in doing so. Achieving the same across the UK population as a whole is the same only on a larger scale.
Rather than simply passing the buck to its corporate citizens the government must seek guidance from organisations that have made health and wellness core to their business strategy. There are now many cases of organisations that drive direct productivity improvements, cost savings and reduced absenteeism by building employee health into the very fabric of their operations.
I have been helping organisations guide, support and direct their staff through corporate health and wellness programmes for more than 10 years and have seen much evidence of the benefits along the way.
This evidence shows that changing perceptions and mindsets in order to adopt healthy lifestyles requires a balance of central drive, direction and campaigning, alongside effective enablement and coaching of individuals to take control of their destiny, often through technology. Upset the balance with too much push, too little means or misaligned choices and the issues become amplified.
Sustainable and singular directed change in relation to health behaviour is a major factor that the white paper appears to be largely overlooking. Health may be unique to the individual and need to offer different things to different people, but it still must operate in a structured and managed framework with the resources to allow people to be healthier. Reducing investment in some sports, for example, will discourage individuals at the first post.
For global businesses employee wellness is now a P&L issue, but they don’t shrink their core HR and occupational health teams to motivate employees. They do the opposite and invest. The white paper misses the point that achieving a healthier UK can’t be achieved on the cheap and has to be core to our culture.
We only need to look at the worrying rise in health issues like type 2 Diabetes in children as evidence that tokenistic gestures and “every man, woman and child for themselves” is not going to work. People have got themselves into a situation of poor health easily due to influences of advertising, marketing and convenience lifestyle.
We have a health deficit equal to if not greater than the financial ones gripping some nations and it needs to focus and engage all layers of society and align responsibility and accountability in all industries to tackle it effectively.
The government themselves tell us “we are all in it together” so where is the health strategy that illustrates that and demonstrates how the powers are going to work with employers, communities and the general populous to make it work?