The coalition is in the process of turning the NHS on its head again in a vain attempt to make it more efficient. All very well, but isn’t it about time we looked at ways of reducing the burden on the NHS so that it actually cost less not more? Instead of vainly searching for elusive cost savings and quality improvements, shouldn’t we be thinking of ways to make our National Health Service into a true National Health Service rather than what it’s become, a National Illness Service? Isn’t it time to put much more emphasis on prevention rather than cure?
The time has come for prevention to become a major focus for the NHS. Why? Because every year the NHS has to spend more and more of its time and precious resources on diseases that are entirely preventable. Take obesity, for example. Obesity is directly related to an increase in heart disease, stroke, cancer and diabetes. This year, obesity-related diseases will cost the NHS nearly £5 billion. With 60% of men and 40% of women forecast to be obese by 2050, this cost is set to escalate to such a degree that the NHS will be unable to deliver the level of health care we have come to expect without there being a huge increase in taxation or an unacceptable reduction in the service it offers.
What successive governments have failed to grasp is that economic disadvantage translates into ill health. Inequality is expensive, and yet we do nothing about it. Prevention means not taxing people into poverty. It means transforming our towns and cities and making them good places to live in. It means positively advantaging the less well off, not through welfare, but by creating an environment in which they have the opportunity to survive and prosper.
Our lack of proper attention to the less well off in our society has created an almost insurmountable problem, but one that we need to address with some urgency. We need some very big ideas about taxation, about housing, about education and about regenerating our industrial base if we are to have a healthier, more equal society – and maintain an efficient and properly funded health care system.