Bow Group Response to White Paper on public health

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

On 30th November 2010, the Coalition Government published its eagerly anticipated White Paper on public health, ‘Healthy Lives, Healthy People: Our Strategy for Public Health in England’. The near 100 page document – significantly more bulky and lengthy than the Government’s first offering, ‘Equity and Excellence: Liberating the NHS'outlines the Coalition’s vision for a public health revolution; an NHS that instinctively lives and breathes preventative healthcare; and a new Public Health Service entirely dedicated to help achieved better health outcomes across England.While some of the policy proposals and rhetoric contained with the document have been advanced by previous governments, the public health White Paper signifies an important and serious statement of intent on how the Coalition Government wants to fundamentally change the way health policy is understood and implemented.As with most clichés, the aphorism “prevention is better than cure” has much truth contained within it. This is as true for primary prevention as it is for secondary prevention; both absolutely crucial for achieving optimal health outcomes. There is little doubt the UK has significant public health problems as demonstrated by the highest levels of obesity in Europe and amongst the highest rates of sexually transmitted diseases (STD) such as genital warts and Chlamydia. Smoking and alcohol related illness remains high, whilst health inequalities between the rich and poor have widened.Public health is also an increasing economic imperative should the NHS be placed on an affordable and sustainable financial footing. Indeed, the basic health economic problem of optimising the NHS budget constraint against infinite healthcare needs necessarily demands a new approach to tackle a mounting cost burden hitting an already over-stretched NHS. It is from this perspective that avoiding preventable illness and disease is critical from both a health outcomes and health economics point of view.But is all this talk of public health really that new?