The NHS needs to clarify its role in public policy and stop “trying to do everything”, according to King’s Fund chief executive Niall Dickson.
Mr Dickson said he was concerned that the NHS was increasingly attempting to get involved in areas such as housing and social deprivation instead of concentrating on health.
He used the example of NHS Hull, which bought a boat to help young people from disadvantaged backgrounds.
Speaking at the Labour Party conference, he said: “It’s all laudable but I don’t think that’s the NHS’s job. We need to define clearly what we want. This trying to do everything is a bit of a worry.”
He said the NHS also needed to think about the most effective use of resources to improve public health.
Discussing free swimming lessons, which have gained strong support from health secretary Andy Burnham, he said: “That sounds like a great idea.
“I don’t know what the evidence base is. Does it encourage the right people to swim or are we just encouraging people to go more often? Is that a good use of public money?”
He also called for a greater emphasis on individual responsibility instead of “almost infantalising people who are poor”.
Institutions needed to focus on encouraging people to make healthier choices for themselves, he said.