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Better health choices to increase life expectancy, nation told

Better health choices to increase life expectancy, nation told

People must take greater responsibility for their own health, according to the health secretary, as the long-term vision for the NHS is revealed.

Health and social care secretary Matt Hancock said earlier this week that putting an emphasis on prevention, rather than cure, could increase life expectancy by five years. He wants to see people reduce their intake of alcohol, sugar, salt and fat, as well as stay active and stop smoking, whilst managers should do more to keep staff healthy.

Mr Hancock’s vision comes as the NHS plans how to tackle issues such as obesity and cancer, as well as chronic funding problems. According to Mr Hancock, £97bn is spent each year on treating disease, yet just £8bn goes towards preventing it - and that there needs to be a ‘shift in culture’ to balance resources.

In the same week, scientists at the University of Oxford have advised governments to think about taxing red meat, saying it would save 6,000 lives each year in the UK and more than £700m in healthcare costs.

Speaking to BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, Mr Hancock said that for too long, the NHS has seen itself as “essentially the National Hospital Service, with primary care and GPs round the side. I want to see it as the health service of the nation, helping people to stay healthier.

“It's about people choosing to look after themselves better, staying active and stopping smoking. Making better choices by limiting alcohol, sugar, salt and fat. It’s not about penalising people. It's about helping them make better choices, giving them all the support we can, because we know taking the tough decisions is never easy.”

Life expectancy in the UK is currently 82.9 years for women, and 79.2 for men, but Mr Hancock wants to add five years of ‘healthy, independent’ life to this by 2035. His plan also includes halving childhood obesity by 2030, reducing loneliness by increasing ‘social prescribing’ and using technology to predict patient illness.

Royal College of Nursing public health lead Helen Donovan welcomed the plans, but said they need to be backed up with proper investment. She said: “We welcome the fact that the Health Secretary is making prevention a priority, and clearly recognises that a focus on public health will keep people healthier for longer and save the NHS money and resources in the long run.

“But Matt Hancock must realise his plans will start at a disadvantage as local authorities struggle with planned cuts to public health budgets of almost four percent per year until 2021.

“While it’s clear he sees that prevention isn’t an optional extra, we need to see properly funded, accountable services delivered by a fully staffed nursing workforce backed by adequate resources.”

And Dementia UK said that the plans were a ‘step in the right direction’ but that they don’t take into account the thousands of people currently living with long-term health conditions. Director of clinical services Paul Edwards said: “Having proper post-diagnostic support in place helps not only these people, but also benefits the NHS, which is languishing in a time of reduced resources and a lack of understanding around life-limiting conditions, especially in the case of dementia.

“It is pleasing to hear, though, that social prescribing has been listed as part of this vision. Our Admiral Nurses, who help to link up people with dementia to the requisite community support, are closely aligned to this model. However, in order to reap the benefits of this approach we need to have a properly joined-up system. Failing this, social prescribing may fall down the increasing gap between health and social care, or just be seen as a ‘nice to have’.”

Mr Hancock’s comments followed the autumn Budget, in which chancellor Philip Hammond promised an extra £20.5bn for the NHS over the next five years - although he didn’t say how much of this investment will be allocated to preventative measures.

The government’s full plans will be outlined in a Green Paper in 2019.

We’ve written a number of articles to help you maintain a healthier lifestyle, including how to quit smoking and rethinking the amount of alcohol you drink. Some health insurance policies also give incentives to customers who go to the gym and don’t smoke. Find out more by calling our team on 0800 862 0373.