Prevention is crucial, but the nation’s health crisis needs innovation not just investment.
Funding for prevention should reflect the scale of the problem.
The British Association for Nutrition and Lifestyle Medicine (BANT) welcomes the publication of the Hewitt review of integrated care systems, especially the recognition that only through prevention can we address the British health crisis. As the professional body for c.3,500 nutrition practitioners across the UK, BANT continues to highlight the importance of prevention over cure. While we welcome a 1% increase in funding for prevention, this is very little considering the growing scale of our public health crisis. While investment in prevention represents excellent value for money, it is likely that it'll take more than a fractional increase to make a lasting difference.
Furthermore, an arbitrary increase in funding is unlikely to bring about real change without a clear plan and purpose, driven by enthusiasm for genuine innovation and supported by evidence of the most effective methods for improving public health.
Common, preventable risk factors underlie most non-communicable diseases and diet is one of them. It is estimated that 26% of adults in England are obese and a further 38% are overweight1. Excessive body mass contributes to key metabolic/physiological changes, setting the conditions for disease. Nutrition should be considered the most important area for investing in health prevention. The NHS currently spends about 5% of its annual budget on preventative activity with the remainder on treatment2. The appetite for change reflected in the review is encouraging, however, the scale of the challenge facing our health system is overwhelming. Non-communicable diseases – cardiovascular disease, cancers, chronic respiratory disease, and type 2 diabetes mellitus – cause an estimated 89% of UK deaths3 consuming up to 75% of health budgets4. BANT welcomes that the review was specifically asked to look at how to empower local ICS leaders to improve outcomes for their populations.
BANT agrees with the Rt Hon Patricia Hewitt that a clear framework to define ‘what we mean by prevention’ is needed to move the recommendations forward. These should clearly define the additional resources and workforce requirements, including consideration of practitioners on PSA accredited registers. These registers set the same level of standards for practitioners working in unregulated health and care occupations as those of statutory regulated professions, and provide a gateway to an underutilised yet highly skilled workforce.
BANT also welcomes the establishment of a Health, Wellbeing and Care Assembly and would encourage a broad membership to ensure a wide range of expert opinions can contribute to address this complicated challenge. We feel this Assembly could especially benefit from the insight of those organisations already operating in preventative health outside the structure of the NHS, such as BANT.
Prevention is the cure to our public health crisis and struggling NHS. We therefore welcome the greater investment in prevention, as this represents one of the only truly long-term and effective solution for our health system. However, the urgency and importance cannot be underestimated. We are running out of time to avoid this unnecessary health emergency from bringing the NHS to its knees, therefore it is of the greatest importance that no stone is left unturned and no option unexplored in these coming years.
1Obesity statistics, Research Briefing, Published Thursday, 12 January 2023 https://commonslibrary.parliament.uk/research-briefings/sn03336/
2Office for National Statistics. Healthcare expenditure, UK health accounts, 2017. Available: https://www.ons.gov.uk/peoplepopulationandcommunity/healthandsocialcare/healthcaresystem/bulletins/ukhealthaccounts/2017