A coalition of the government, the NHS, public services, the private sector, charities and patients could prevent tens of thousands of people dying from avoidable conditions, says Chris Askew
Too many people are living with, or dying from, conditions that could have been prevented. Yet action to implement public services designed to support people in making positive choices and adopting healthy behaviours is frustratingly slow.
‘Political leaders should make clear that they too are getting serious about prevention’
Preventable ill health costs the NHS and costs the economy, but more importantly means avoidable suffering. We know that many diseases, including breast cancer and heart disease, have common lifestyle risk factors, and simple but effective measures can help individuals take control of their risk and manage existing conditions.
By focusing solely on the problems of today we are neglecting our future and this can’t continue. In 2011, the government signed up to the World Health Organization’s “25x25” goal to reduce deaths from the major preventable diseases by 25 per cent by 2025, but it is yet to set out how it plans to achieve it. We believe that without a national plan for health improvement, led by the prime minister, that target will not be met.
The stark choice we face is to either focus efforts upstream, helping people to stay as well as possible for as long as possible, whether or not they already have a long term condition; or continue to swim against the tide of ill health, and risk NHS and social care services being pulled under.
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We know the health service is facing significant and immediate financial and capacity pressures, but far from providing an excuse to defer action on prevention, these pressures make the case for action now.
‘Our role will involve more than just pointing out the problem. We are ready to be part of the solution’
Last month, NHS England formally recognised the need for a radical upgrade in prevention and public health as part of the NHS Five Year Forward View.
This ambition offers a welcome momentum, which political leaders should seize to make clear that they too are getting serious about prevention.
Effective prevention strategies can deliver short and longer term benefits to individuals, communities, health services and the economy, which is why we are calling for a new partnership – across government, the NHS, public services, the private sector, charities and patients – to put prevention first.
Clear plan of action
We urgently need a clear plan for how we tackle these risk factors and support everyone to live healthier lives. This must be a top priority as we enter an election year if we are to prevent tens of thousands of people dying needlessly, and living with avoidable conditions.
We also know that health charities need to play their part. Next year we will publish detailed modelling on the prevalence of all conditions represented by the Richmond Group of Charities, the costs of failing to make progress on prevention, the impact that policy interventions could have on preventable illness, and how the WHO goals could be delivered.
Our role will involve more than just pointing out the problem. We are ready to be part of the solution, and the time for action on prevention is now.
Chris Askew is chief executive of Breakthrough Breast Cancer writing on behalf of The Richmond Group of Charities (Age UK, Asthma UK, Breakthrough Breast Cancer, The British Heart Foundation, The British Lung Foundation, Diabetes UK, Macmillan Cancer Support, The Neurological Alliance, Rethink Mental Illness and the Stroke Association)