The National Medical Director for NHS England and Improvement and the President of the Association of Directors of Public Health discuss why prevention is key to the NHS Long Term Plan:
‘It takes a village to raise a child’ – this wonderful saying beautifully captures how an entire community of people must interact with children for them to experience and grow in a safe and healthy environment.
It encapsulates the interconnectedness of our society, across the generations and across all aspects of our lives.
If you think about it, it’s also true for us every stage of our lives: the community, or society we live in – our family and friends, our education, jobs, homes, income – all play their part in shaping our health and wellbeing throughout our lives.
We know the NHS is there for us, supporting us to bring the next generation into the world, through to old age. Giving children the best start in life, alongside the skills to take care of their health, provides the best investment we can make to improve everyone’s chances of a healthy, long life. Creating good health is a much better approach than treating things when they go wrong.
Healthcare is there for us when we become ill – but increasingly we recognise that the NHS also has a key role in keeping us well and out of hospital.
The NHS is part of our nation’s ‘village’, along with local government, the police, fire service, voluntary and community sectors. Working together, with the child, young adult, middle-aged or older person at the centre, we can increase our reach and impact to deliver a healthier population. In turn, this will help us keep the NHS sustainable for the next generations.
The NHS Long Term Plan shows the NHS playing its part in not only being there when we are ill, but also shifting focus and resources to preventing ill-health.
The Long Term Plan has a strong focus on preventative medicine – in areas such as smoking, alcohol and obesity – and we need to ensure these are implemented effectively, integrating where appropriate with other local services, ensuring always that people are at the centre of pathways with positive behaviour change and improved health being the goal.
But we can’t rely on these new programmes to deliver the size of the shift needed. Helping people stay well is already part of the way the NHS works but we need this focus to be broader, running through everything the NHS does. The reach of the NHS provides millions of opportunities for staff to engage with people, making every contact count in helping people live more healthily.
New structures and arrangements through Integrated Care Systems, provide a great opportunity to work pragmatically across organisational boundaries, to join up our local systems and boost efforts to improve our populations’ health and wellbeing. Local authorities, with their leadership and influence across many aspects of the places in which we live our lives – and the third sector, with its deep roots into communities and ability to innovate and deliver are critical to the work of the ‘village’.
It’s time to work together as a system to support people to be healthy, happy and fulfilled throughout their life-time.