The Government has published a Prevention Green Paper setting out how it plans to embed the principle ‘prevention is better than cure’ across wider society. PHE’s Chief Executive Duncan Selbie discusses what this could mean for the public’s health.
Aiming for quality, not just quantity
The Green Paper ‘Advancing our health: prevention in the 2020s’ offers the next opportunity to further galvanise a shift of focus from cure to prevention.
For decades Government and the NHS have prioritised caring for us when we are sick. This Green Paper signifies a shift from considering how long people live as being important, to an even more important measure being how long people live in good health.
Currently, affluent people are enjoying 19 more years in good health than those who are poor. This is not okay and is not inevitable. And whilst this Green Paper cannot deliver the entire 5 extra years of healthy, independent life the Government wants to achieve by 2035, the measures within it would make a positive difference.
Making the healthier choice the easier choice
Obesity is one of the biggest public health challenges facing our country – competing with tobacco for the leading cause of premature death.
The Government is committing to further actions in the Green Paper. This includes building upon actions within Chapters 1 and 2 of the Childhood Obesity Plan as well as publishing a third chapter that will aim to tackle the root causes of obesity.
The opportunity is to support families by making the healthier choice the easier choice. This is why the reduction and reformulation work that PHE oversees on behalf of Government is so critical. The Green Paper will see this work extend further into baby food, helping parents to make the healthy choice for their children.
A PHE survey published last year shows around 9 in 10 people support the work Government is doing with the food industry to make food healthier. The commitment, leadership and creativity already shown by some companies proves that it is possible to drive healthier consumption while staying competitive. But there needs to be further and quicker action from everyone. The Green Paper can help us to achieve this.
Seizing the opportunity
Prevention needs to be at the forefront of all national and local policies, weaved into plans for everything from health and social care to town planning, housing and transport.
Taken together with the Secretary of State’s prevention vision and the NHS Long Term Plan, this Green Paper acknowledges prevention is everyone’s responsibility, from the NHS to employers, schools, local authorities and individuals.
The Green Paper makes a real commitment to helping us all to lead healthier lives. We hope its ambition to place prevention at the heart of all policies will be fully reflected in the spending review decisions.