NHS needs radical shift towards disease and illness prevention, Hancock warns

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The NHS will not be sustainable without a “radical shift” towards preventing disease and illness, Health Secretary Matt Hancock has warned.

Mr Hancock said that the service could not cope with the current pace of increase in acute hospital admissions.

In a keynote speech in London, he promised a greater proportion of the £20 billion a year increase for the NHS in England announced by Prime Minister Theresa May would go to primary and community care.

While a combination of genomics and artificial intelligence had the potential to transform preventative medicine, he said it also was up to individuals to take greater responsibility for their own health.

“We have a right to the healthcare that we need, when we need it, free at the point of use,” he told the International Association of National Public Health Institutes conference in London.

“But we have a responsibility to pay our taxes to fund it and to use the health service carefully, with consideration for others, and to comply with medical advice to look after ourselves.

“Too much of the health debate in England has been about rights.

“I think we need to pay more attention to our responsibilities as well as our rights.”

Mr Hancock warned that a 6.6% increase in emergency admissions to A&E over the last year was “unsustainable”.

“Only with better prevention can our NHS be sustainable for the long term,” he said.

“We need to see a radical shift in how the NHS sees itself, from a hospital service for the ill to a nationwide service to keep us healthy, and where those who work on the frontline of the NHS – including GPs that are at its bedrock – feel confident to remind people of their responsibilities too.”

He said currently the overwhelming majority of the NHS budget was spent on acute care, with just £11 billion going to primary care, where the bulk of prevention took place.

“The combination of prevention and predictive medicine have more than twice the impact on the length of healthy life,” he said.

“That isn’t just the difference between life and death.

“It is the difference between spending the last 20 years of life fit and active, or in a chronic condition.

(PA Graphics)
(PA Graphics)

Mr Hancock also called on employers to play a greater role in improving the health of their staff, and in their rehabilitation when they fall sick.

He cited the example of the Netherlands, where employers must demonstrate “due diligence” in their approach to the rehabilitation of staff who fall sick, and help them return to the workplace.

“Employers have a responsibility to help improve the health of their staff and the health of the nation,” he said.

“To achieve this we need to strengthen the links between employers, their unwell staff and the NHS.”

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