Matt Hancock: My vision for prevention

Prevention is a bigger health topic than many people realise – and it’s about to get bigger.

When we think about staying healthy, it’s often within the narrow bandwidth of eating well, exercising regularly and avoiding smoking. These are important issues for us all to address of course, but there’s so much more to it than smoothies, park runs and vaping.

In fact, I have no doubt that, if we get prevention right, it holds the key to longer, healthier, happier lives and a sustainable, high quality health and care system guaranteed for many generations to come.

This is not just about keeping well physically and mentally, or preventing ill health in the future – it’s about the environment around us, the lifestyle choices we make and how we manage existing health conditions, many of which – like some cancers – cannot currently be prevented.

It’s why, when I became Health Secretary, I made it one of my big three priorities alongside advancing health technology and doing much more to support our amazing health and social care workforce.

My new Prevention vision, launched this week, is radical and ambitious.

It sets out a new approach to:

  • keeping people healthy, happy and treating their health problems quickly
  • empowering people to manage their own physical and mental health needs closer to home with the support of professionals in the community
  • delivering care in the right place, in settings that suit them and their needs

My vision document – Prevention is better than cure – sets out how we can use new technology, workplace strategies and the power of local communities to support people with health issues and prevent worsening health.

As set out in the Government’s Aging Society Grand Challenge launched earlier this year, it’s our aim for this country’s population to enjoy, on average, five more years of healthy, independent living by 2035, while closing the gap between the richest and the poorest.

That means:

  • Prioritising investment in primary and community healthcare
  • Making sure every child has the best start in life
  • Supporting local councils to take the lead in improving health locally through innovation, communication and community outreach
  • Coordinating transport, housing, education, the workplace and the environment – in the grand enterprise to improve our nation’s health
  • Involving employers, businesses, charities, the voluntary sector and local groups in creating safe, connected and healthy neighbourhoods and workplaces

The vision is a call to action for every part of society – a call which includes providing care and support for those providing care (formal or informal), not just those receiving it.

So, I want to see NHS, public health, social care and local authority leaders, employers, trainers and educators do much, much more to help their dedicated workforces remain healthy, empowered and valued.

And of course, I want all of us as individuals to think more about the preventive measures we can take to maintain our health and how we might contribute to the wellbeing of our communities.

There is, of course, a cost benefit to all of this. Each year, we are spending £97 billion of public money on treating disease and only £8 billion preventing it across the UK – that’s an imbalance in urgent need of correction. We must get smarter about where we focus our efforts and spend our money, not least because preventative treatments cost less than retrograde treatments further down the line.

Making this shift in favour of prevention requires additional funding and more staff in community services. That’s where the NHS Long Term Plan and the additional £20.5bn a year by the end of 2023-24 comes into play.  We expect this additional funding to support health and social care services to prioritise prevention; with a greater focus on community care, mental health, and primary care.

Finally, the Government is committed to using artificial intelligence (AI), genomics and other technologies to transform the way we diagnose and treat chronic diseases. The advances in clinically directed computer algorithms to detect eye disease and cancer symptoms (even to the point of recommending referrals as accurately as their human peers) are simply breath-taking – as are systems capable of sifting anonymised patient data to target early intervention and bespoke treatment plans.

This Prevention Vision would not have been possible without the research, analysis and insights of a great many experts in their field and – most importantly – the hopes, needs and aspirations of the people of this country. A big thank you to everyone who has already contributed to the vision. I look forward to working with you on developing a Prevention Green Paper next year to set out specific policies to fulfil our ambitions.

Prevention is not only better than cure, it’s our best hope to create a happier, healthier, more independent future – help me bring that future into the present.

Visit www.gov.uk  to find out more about the vision. There you’ll find case studies revealing how some aspects are already being implemented. Now is the time for everyone to work together to make it a reality across the country.

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