Fine words...

Front Desk

Fine words...

Fine words butter no parsnips. The (relatively) new Secretary of State’s vision for prevention sets out areas “where we need action”. It says the £20.5bn extra the NHS will get by 2023-24 provides “a unique opportunity to radically change the focus of health and social care onto prevention”. Yeah, right.

I wish I could believe this. But I’ve heard it all before. And it’s a bit rich coming from a Government that has held back NHS funding over eight years, and seen the public health budgets it gave to local councils reduced year on year as those same councils try to square the circle of total cuts over the same period of up to 50%. 

“Smoking is still too prevalent”, apparently. Pity about all that decommissioning of proven stop smoking support services, then. “We have one of the highest childhood obesity rates in Western Europe”. Shame we sold off all the school playing fields, and that our obsession with testing kids every year from the time they can walk means little space in a packed curriculum for health literacy, home economics and physical education. “Over 10 million adults in England drink levels of alcohol that put their health at risk”. We’ve dabbled in the policy of minimum alcohol pricing, and bottled it. Senior Government advisors on liver disease have thrown in the towel.

Let’s not even get into the wider determinants of health, like the availability and quality of housing.

I’m sure Matt Hancock means well. But we could do without the politics – the extra £20.5bn is the “largest single cash injection for the NHS ever” because the base is higher, and increases over five years have been rolled up into a single figure (OK, forward certainty is a good thing). But coming after eight years of austerity, I think we all know where most of this money is going to end up. Where it usually does. NHS providers, on behalf of hospitals, have spent it several times over, already.

I’ve been reading documents like this for donkeys. Promoting Better Health in 1990 said pretty much the same stuff (but without the AI-driven whizzy solutions). Saying people should talk more responsibility for their own health goes back to Dr David Owen in the 1970s. The biggest problem the Secretary of State has to overcome is that public health is a long game.  And politics is driven by electoral cycles and the longevity of the individual in the hotseat. 

I hope this is a new beginning, because of course healthy living community pharmacy would be a big player in the prevention space.  But fine words…

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