The government has set out a list of healthcare priorities for the 2020s, including ending smoking by 2030.
Promoting physical activity, developing guidelines on sleep and targeting those at risk of diabetes are also set out as priorities in the green paper. The policy document aims to reduce the number of years spent in poor health.
‘Nurses, who are often the first to have a conversation with patient about preventing long term health conditions, were very supportive of the recent shift towards prevention. The RCN has been an advocate of the idea that investing in preventative health keeps people out of hospital, which ultimately saves the health service money in the long term. But the burden doesn’t fall solely on individuals - government and society have a key role to play in ensuring we stay in good health,’ said Helen Donovan, RCN Professional Lead for Public Health.
‘However, despite prevention being one of the Health Secretary’s three key priorities, we’ve been waiting some time for these plans which appear to have been buried in the dying days of the current Government, In addition, the plans already start at a disadvantage, as the Health Foundation suggests there will be a 25% cut in public health spending per person by 2020/21.’
Other commitments include extending tooth brushing schemes in nurseries and primary schools, reviewing the evidence on sleep and health with a view to developing clear national guidance on daily recommended hours of sleep, and encouraging "active play" such as skipping in nurseries and more travel by bike and on food. Additionally, funding for the diabetes prevention programme will be doubled.
‘One way to earn the faith of healthcare professionals would be to urgently pledge to restore cuts to the public health grant which local authorities rely on to deliver essential preventative services such as sexual health and smoking cessation services,’ added Ms Donovan.
‘In addition, the community nursing workforce is unprepared with widespread vacancies and staffing shortages. Cuts to training budgets have stopped nurses from progressing in their career and, until rectified, it’s difficult to see how anything substantial will change.
“In healthcare, our goal is to think of a person’s wellbeing over an entire lifetime, not just in the short term. It’s once again disappointing that short-sighted government policy still doesn’t reflect this.’
However, the release of the green paper attracted controversy, as many raised concerns that it had been rushed out against the wishes of the health secretary Matt Hancock.
‘The shabby way this consultation paper was released is disappointing given the significant public health challenges facing the country. The next Prime Minister should move quickly to restore confidence that the population’s health will be a key priority for the new government,’ said David Buck, Senior Fellow at The King’s Fund.
‘The paper is a missed opportunity to build on the success of the sugar tax by taking a bolder approach to using tax and regulation to improve public health. Rather than seeing this as the nanny state, polling indicates that public support for these kind of interventions is stronger than politicians often assume.’