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by Jack Sansum 21st May, 2019
3 min read

Prevention is better than cure – turning government rhetoric into reality

The arrival of Matt Hancock at the Department of Health and Social Care in July 2018 signalled an opportunity for a refresh of the government’s priorities for healthcare. Hancock’s approach, alongside the ambitions set out in the NHS Long-Term Plan (LTP), mark a potentially signifcant turning point in the way the NHS treats people.

With the NHS caring for over a million patients and families every 24 hours, an evidence-based prevention programme to ensure people do not get ill in the first place is a welcome commitment. However, the challenge as ever will be to turn rhetoric into reality, especially given a relatively poor track record of following through on previous good intentions.

Policy Context

Hancock was quick to signal his intention that prevention will be one of three priorities distinguishing his time as Secretary of State for Health and Social Care. The policy paper, Prevention Is Better Than Cure, outlined a shift in focus to primary and community care services in order to support people to manage their own health problems when they arise. The paper’s aim’s include improving life expectancy by at least 5 extra years by 2035 and reducing health inequalities between the richest and poorest in society.

A Prevention Green Paper, currently expected in 2019, will be a vehicle for the Department of Health and Social Care to show just what it means to prioritise prevention over cure.

Whilst the NHS already provides a number of preventative services – the 2012 Health and Social Care Act shifted commissioning responsibilities to local government for many public health functions including services to stop smoking, alcohol and drug misuse – clouding the role of NHS providing and commissioning services in the process. The NHS LTP acknowledges this, outlining that the NHS can take important actions to ‘complement’ but not replace the role of local authorities.

Integrated Care Systems (ICS) – due to be rolled out across all local health economies by 2021 – will have a key role in helping to deliver such preventative programmes. ICS’s will therefore need to work in partnership with local authorities, the voluntary sector and other stakeholders in order to improve population health and tackle the wider determinants of health.

The Road to Reality

The first test will come in the form of the upcoming Spending Review, where it remains to be seen whether the government will reverse the cuts made to public health budgets.

Public health is currently in its fifth year of a funding squeeze. Current estimates will see spending per person fall by nearly a quarter between 2015/16 and 2019/20. For rhetoric to match reality it is inconceivable that a preventative vision from the Secretary of State will result in further reductions in expenditure on prevention. It will therefore be vital that the NHS works alongside an adequately funded and appropriately resourced local government.

Engagement – the key to making a preventative NHS a reality

At present, the government has announced a number of preventative aims – including making social prescribing available in every local area by 2023 and diagnosing 75% of cancers at stages 1 and 2 by 2028. However, there is as yet no fully formed strategy.

As we have seen through the numerous delays to the “imminent” Social Care Green Paper – providers and those seeking to shape the preventative agenda should be as pro-active as possible in engaging with stakeholders.

At GK we live and breathe health policy – we know the key decision makers and influencers in the health and social care market. We can devise compelling strategies to engage with politicians, civil servants, local authorities and the NHS – such partnership working holds the key to ensuring that the aims of the preventative agenda are made a reality.

We understand the complex relationships and pressures which influence decision-making in the ever-evolving health system. With the Spending Review process expected to start this summer, and with the Prevention and Social Care Green Papers in development – stakeholders will be looking for solutions – which will decide or influence what the government is more likely to invest in.

With prevention high up on both the Health and Social Care Secretary and the NHS’s agenda, there are a wealth of opportunities for healthcare providers to benefit. Why not get in touch to find out how we can help?

See more articles by Jack Sansum