One of the great strengths of this country is that we have an NHS that – at its best – is ‘of the people, by the people and for the people’.
Yet sometimes the health service has been prone to operating a ‘factory’ model of care and repair, with limited engagement with the wider community, a short-sighted approach to partnerships, and underdeveloped advocacy and action on the broader influencers of health and wellbeing.
As a result we have not fully harnessed the renewable energy represented by patients and communities, or the potential positive health impacts of employers and national and local governments.
Getting serious about prevention
The future health of millions of children, the sustainability of the NHS, and the economic prosperity of Britain all now depend on a radical upgrade in prevention and public health. Twelve years ago, Derek Wanless’ health review warned that unless the country took prevention seriously we would be faced with a sharply rising burden of avoidable illness. That warning has not been heeded – and the NHS is on the hook for the consequences.
Rather than the ‘fully engaged scenario’ that Wanless spoke of, one in five adults still smoke. A third of people drink too much alcohol. A third of men and half of women don’t get enough exercise. Almost two thirds of adults are overweight or obese. These patterns are influenced by, and in turn reinforce, deep health inequalities which can cascade down the generations. For example, smoking rates during pregnancy range from 2% in west London to 28% in Blackpool.
Even more shockingly, the number of obese children doubles while children are at primary school. Fewer than one-in-ten children are obese when they enter reception class. By the time they’re in Year Six, nearly one-in-five are then obese.
And as the ‘stock’ of population health risk gets worse, the ‘flow’ of costly NHS treatments increases as a consequence. To take just one example – Diabetes UK estimate that the NHS is already spending about £10 billion a year on diabetes. Almost three million people in England are already living with diabetes and another seven million people are at risk of becoming diabetic. Put bluntly, as the nation’s waistline keeps piling on the pounds, we’re piling on billions of pounds in future taxes just to pay for preventable illnesses.
We do not have to accept this rising burden of ill health driven by our lifestyles, patterned by deprivation and other social and economic influences. Public Health England’s new strategy sets out priorities for tackling obesity, smoking and harmful drinking; ensuring that children get the best start in life; and that we reduce the risk of dementia through tackling lifestyle risks, amongst other national health goals.
We support these priorities and will work to deliver them. While the health service certainly can’t do everything that’s needed by itself, it can and should now become a more activist agent of health-related social change. That’s why we will lead where possible, or advocate when appropriate, a range of new approaches to improving health and wellbeing.
Incentivising and supporting healthier behaviour. England has made significant strides in reducing smoking, but it still remains our number one killer. More than half of the inequality in life expectancy between social classes is now linked to higher smoking rates amongst poorer people. There are now over 3,000 alcohol-related admissions to A&E every day. Our young people have the highest consumption of sugary soft drinks in Europe. So for all of these major health risks – including tobacco, alcohol, junk food and excess sugar – we will actively support comprehensive, hard-hitting and broad-based national action to include clear information and labelling, targeted personal support and wider changes to distribution, marketing, pricing, and product formulation. We will also use the substantial combined purchasing power of the NHS to reinforce these measures.
Local democratic leadership on public health. Local authorities now have a statutory responsibility for improving the health of their people, and councils and elected mayors can make an important impact. For example, Barking and Dagenham are seeking to limit new junk food outlets near schools. Ipswich Council, working with Suffolk Constabulary, is taking action on alcohol. Other councils are now following suit. The mayors of Liverpool and London have established wide-ranging health commissions to mobilise action for their residents. Local authorities in greater Manchester are increasingly acting together to drive health and wellbeing. Through local Health and Wellbeing Boards, the NHS will play its part in these initiatives. However, we agree with the Local Government Association that English mayors and local authorities should also be granted enhanced powers to allow local democratic decisions on public health policy that go further and faster than prevailing national law – on alcohol, fast food, tobacco and other issues that affect physical and mental health.
Targeted prevention. While local authorities now have responsibility for many broad based public health programmes, the NHS has a distinct role in secondary prevention. Proactive primary care is central to this, as is the more systematic use of evidence-based intervention strategies. We also need to make different investment decisions – for example, it makes little sense that the NHS is now spending more on bariatric surgery for obesity than on a national roll-out of intensive lifestyle intervention programmes that were first shown to cut obesity and prevent diabetes over a decade ago. Our ambition is to change this over the next five years so that we become the first country to implement at scale a national evidence-based diabetes prevention programme modelled on proven UK and international models, and linked where appropriate to the new Health Check. NHS England and Public Health England will establish a preventative services programme that will then expand evidence-based action to other conditions.
NHS support to help people get and stay in employment. Sickness absence related costs to employers and taxpayers have been estimated at £22 billion a year, and over 300,000 people each year take up health-related benefits. In doing so, individuals collectively miss out on £4 billion a year of lost earnings. Yet there is emerging evidence that well targeted health support can help keep people in work thus improving their wellbeing and preserving their livelihoods. Mental health problems now account for more than twice the number of Employment and Support Allowance and Incapacity Benefit claims than do musculoskeletal complaints (for example, bad backs). Furthermore, the employment rate of people with severe and enduring mental health problems is the lowest of all disability groups at just 7%. A new government-backed Fit for Work scheme starts in 2015. Over and above that, during the next Parliament we will seek to test a win-win opportunity of improving access to NHS services for at-risk individuals while saving ‘downstream’ costs at the Department for Work and Pensions, if money can be reinvested across programmes.
Workplace health. One of the advantages of a tax-funded NHS is that – unlike in a number of continental European countries – employers here do not pay directly for their employees’ health care. But British employers do pay national insurance contributions which help fund the NHS, and a healthier workforce will reduce demand and lower long term costs. The government has partially implemented the recommendations in the independent review by Dame Carol Black and David Frost, which allow employers to provide financial support for vocational rehabilitation services without employees facing a tax bill. There would be merit in extending incentives for employers in England who provide effective NICE recommended workplace health programmes for employees. We will also establish with NHS Employers new incentives to ensure the NHS as an employer sets a national example in the support it offers its own 1.3 million staff to stay healthy, and serve as “health ambassadors” in their local communities.
Box 2.1: A healthier NHS workplace
While three quarters of NHS trusts say they offer staff help to quit smoking, only about a third offer them support in keeping to a healthy weight. Three quarters of hospitals do not offer healthy food to staff working night shifts. It has previously been estimated the NHS could reduce its overall sickness rate by a third – the equivalent of adding almost 15,000 staff and 3.3 million working days at a cost saving of £550m. So among other initiatives we will:
- Cut access to unhealthy products on NHS premises, implementing food standards, and providing healthy options for night staff.
- Measure staff health and wellbeing, and introduce voluntary work-based weight watching and health schemes which international studies have shown achieve sustainable weight loss in more than a third of those who take part.
- Support “active travel” schemes for staff and visitors.
- Promote the Workplace Wellbeing Charter, the Global Corporate Challenge and the TUC’s Better Health and Work initiative, and ensure NICE guidance on promoting healthy workplaces is implemented, particularly for mental health.
- Review with the Faculty of Occupational Medicine the strengthening of occupational health.
Even people with long term conditions, who tend to be heavy users of the health service, are likely to spend less than 1% of their time in contact with health professionals. The rest of the time they, their carers and their families manage on their own. As the patients’ organisation National Voices puts it: personalised care will only happen when statutory services recognise that patients’ own life goals are what count; that services need to support families, carers and communities; that promoting wellbeing and independence need to be the key outcomes of care; and that patients, their families and carers are often ‘experts by experience’.
As a first step towards this ambition we will improve the information to which people have access—not only clinical advice, but also information about their condition and history. The digital and technology strategies we set out in chapter four will help, and within five years, all citizens will be able to access their medical and care records (including in social care contexts) and share them with carers or others they choose.
Second, we will do more to support people to manage their own health – staying healthy, making informed choices of treatment, managing conditions and avoiding complications. With the help of voluntary sector partners, we will invest significantly in evidence-based approaches such as group-based education for people with specific conditions and self management educational courses, as well as encouraging independent peer-to-peer communities to emerge.
A third step is to increase the direct control patients have over the care that is provided to them. We will make good on the NHS’ longstanding promise to give patients choice over where and how they receive care. Only half of patients say they were offered a choice of hospitals for their care, and only half of patients say they are as involved as they wish to be in decisions about their care and treatment. We will also introduce integrated personal commissioning (IPC), a new voluntary approach to blending health and social care funding for individuals with complex needs. As well as care plans and voluntary sector advocacy and support, IPC will provide an integrated, “year of care” budget that will be managed by people themselves or on their behalf by councils, the NHS or a voluntary organisation.
More broadly, we need to engage with communities and citizens in new ways, involving them directly in decisions about the future of health and care services. Programmes like NHS Citizen point the way, but we also commit to four further actions to build on the energy and compassion that exists in communities across England. These are better support for carers; creating new options for health-related volunteering; designing easier ways for voluntary organisations to work alongside the NHS; and using the role of the NHS as an employer to achieve wider health goals.
Supporting carers. Two thirds of patients admitted to hospital are over 65, and more than a quarter of hospital inpatients have dementia. The five and a half million carers in England make a critical and underappreciated contribution not only to loved ones, neighbours and friends, but to the very sustainability of the NHS itself. We will find new ways to support carers, building on the new rights created by the Care Act, and especially helping the most vulnerable amongst them – the approximately 225,000 young carers and the 110,000 carers who are themselves aged over 85. This will include working with voluntary organisations and GP practices to identify them and provide better support. For NHS staff, we will look to introduce flexible working arrangements for those with major unpaid caring responsibilities.
Encouraging community volunteering. Volunteers are crucial in both health and social care. Three million volunteers already make a critical contribution to the provision of health and social care in England; for example, the Health Champions programme of trained volunteers that work across the NHS to improve its reach and effectiveness. The Local Government Association has made proposals that volunteers, including those who help care for the elderly, should receive a 10% reduction in their council tax bill, worth up to £200 a year. We support testing approaches like that, which could be extended to those who volunteer in hospitals and other parts of the NHS. The NHS can go further, accrediting volunteers and devising ways to help them become part of the extended NHS family – not as substitutes for but as partners with our skilled employed staff. For example, more than 1,000 “community first responders” have been recruited by Yorkshire Ambulance in more rural areas and trained in basic life support. New roles which have been proposed could include family and carer liaison, educating people in the management of long-term conditions and helping with vaccination programmes. We also intend to work with carers organisations to support new volunteer programmes that could provide emergency help when carers themselves face a crisis of some kind, as well as better matching volunteers to the roles where they can add most value.
Stronger partnerships with charitable and voluntary sector organisations. When funding is tight, NHS, local authority and central government support for charities and voluntary organisations is put under pressure. However these voluntary organisations often have an impact well beyond what statutory services alone can achieve. Too often the NHS conflates the voluntary sector with the idea of volunteering, whereas these organisations provide a rich range of activities, including information, advice, advocacy and they deliver vital services with paid expert staff. Often they are better able to reach underserved groups, and are a source of advice for commissioners on particular needs. So in addition to other steps the NHS will take, we will seek to reduce the time and complexity associated with securing local NHS funding by developing a short national alternative to the standard NHS contract where grant funding may be
more appropriate than burdensome contracts, and by encouraging funders to commit to multiyear funding wherever possible.
The NHS as a local employer. The NHS is committed to making substantial progress in ensuring that the boards and leadership of NHS organisations better reflect the diversity of the local communities they serve, and that the NHS provides supportive and non-discriminatory ladders of opportunity for all its staff, including those from black and minority ethnic backgrounds. NHS employers will be expected to lead the way as progressive employers, including for example by signing up to efforts such as Time to Change which challenge mental health stigma and discrimination. NHS employers also have the opportunity to be more creative in offering supported job opportunities to ‘experts by experience’ such as people with learning disabilities who can help drive the kind of change in culture and services that the Winterbourne View scandal so graphically demonstrated is needed.
The NHS as a social movement
None of these initiatives and commitments by themselves will be the difference between success and failure over the next five years. But collectively and cumulatively they and others like them will help shift power to patients and citizens, strengthen communities, improve health and wellbeing, and – as a by-product – help moderate rising demands on the NHS.
So rather than being seen as the ‘nice to haves’ and the ‘discretionary extras’, our conviction is that these sort of partnerships and initiatives are in fact precisely the sort of ‘slow burn, high impact’ actions that are now essential.
They in turn need to be matched by equally radical action to transform the way NHS care is provided. That is the subject of the next chapter.
Box 2.2: Support for people with Dementia
About 700,000 people in England are estimated to have dementia, many undiagnosed. Perhaps one in three people aged over 65 will develop dementia before they die. Almost 500,000 unpaid carers look after people living with dementia. The NHS is making a national effort to increase the proportion of people with dementia who are able to get a formal diagnosis from under half, to two thirds of people affected or more. Early diagnosis can prevent crises, while treatments are available that may slow progression of the disease.
For those that are diagnosed with dementia, the NHS’ ambition over the next five years is to offer a consistent standard of support for patients newly diagnosed with dementia, supported by named clinicians or advisors, with proper care plans developed in partnership with patients and families; and
the option of personal budgets, so that resources can be used in a way that works best for individual patients. Looking further ahead, the government has committed new funding to promote dementia research and treatment.
But the dementia challenge calls for a broader coalition, drawing together statutory services, communities and businesses. For example, Dementia Friendly Communities – currently being developed by the Alzheimer’s Society – illustrate how, with support, people with dementia can continue to participate in the life of their community. These initiatives will have our full support – as will local dementia champions, participating businesses and other organisations.