Creating a healthier UK society by tackling the root causes of ill health - The Health Foundation

Posted On: 
11th July 2019

The Health Foundation's Director Jo Bibby calls for a "whole-government approach" to health and social care and one which "places the value of people’s health and wellbeing on an equal footing with measures of GDP".

"To create a healthier nation, we need to start looking beyond the treatment of illness via the NHS and move away from seeing public health as the job of the Department of Health and Social Care alone."
Credit: 
Matt Writtle

Across the political spectrum there is a growing recognition that prevention is better than cure when it comes to improving the health of the nation. The recently published NHS Long Term Plan puts preventing poor health at its heart, a prevention Green Paper is being developed by the Department of Health and Social Care, and one of the key aims of the government’s Industrial Strategy is to improve healthy life expectancy and narrow the gap between the richest and poorest. 

However, the evidence shows that the government has under-prioritised long-term investment in expenditure that maintains and improves people’s health. While the NHS has been protected and we have seen a recent funding boost of £20.5bn for frontline health care services, other areas of government that play a crucial role in creating the conditions for good health – from social security to spending on children’s services and housing – have experienced significant funding reductions in recent years. This disconnect between rhetoric and action is seen most starkly in the reductions to the direct funding made available for public health, through the public health grant given by government to local authorities. Now £850m lower in real terms – a cut of over a fifth – than initial allocations in 2015/16. 

“The NHS isn’t run by people - the NHS is people.” – Health Secretary Matt Hancock

Given that the strongest determinants of people’s health are where they ‘live, work and play’ , continuing this pattern of under-investment in the social fabric and services that support people’s long-term health will only store up more problems for the future. Indeed, reductions in funding have come at a time when life expectancy improvements have slowed dramatically and health inequalities are widening. The latest data from the Office for National Statistics shows that people born in the most deprived 10% of local areas of England are expected to live over 18 fewer years in good health than those born in the least deprived 10% of local areas.

Failing to maintain and improve people’s health and to close this gap between the richest and poorest will not only carry a high financial cost for wider public services, it will impact on our economy and wider society. The health of the population is a national asset, necessary for improving people’s wellbeing, and enhancing both their productive capacity and their ability to participate in communities.

To create a healthier nation, we need to start looking beyond the treatment of illness via the NHS and move away from seeing public health as the job of the Department of Health and Social Care alone. A whole-government approach to keeping people healthy is required that is longer-term in focus, underpinned by investment, and places the value of people’s health and wellbeing on an equal footing with measures of GDP. 

The Health Foundation is an independent charity committed to bringing about better health and health care for people in the UK.