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Put some faith in public health

Public health
Without proper investment into local authority health services, the NHS will forever be playing catch up

A few years ago, when I worked elsewhere, I curated a feature entitled ‘Ministry of the Bleedin’ Obvious’. It published unsurprising research – lack of sleep causes tiredness, that sort of thing

I was reminded of it this week, when researchers from Harvard released a new paper which revealed that living a healthier lifestyle can add years to your life. For 20 years the team tracked over 100,000 people, and discovered 50 year-olds who exercised regularly, drank in moderation, kept their weight down and didn’t smoke stayed disease-free for longer than those who didn’t.

Perhaps I’m being unfair, in that the paper does quantify the benefits (seven years extra for men, and 10 for women if you’re interested), and far from being a drain on research funds this is the sort of information which could save the NHS billions – if the public could be persuaded to act on it.

To be fair, the Government last year demonstrated they understood this by launching a Green Paper on preventative health, making the right noises on child obesity and eradicating smoking, and proposing a ‘health index’ to run alongside GDP to track the health of the nation.

The problem is that there is no complementary pledge to improve local authority public health budgets – the engine of these sort of preventative programmes. They have fallen by 25% in the last seven years, hobbling local authorities’ ability to run prevention programmes and other support services.The Government must be urged to review this situation.

As the Health Service enters its ninth decade of existence, isn’t it time it lived up to its name? We already have a National Sickness Service – it’s time to try to do better.