NHS Budget Battleground
NHS Budgets Will Continue To Be A Battleground Until The Government Invests In Prevention and Public Health
Yesterday’s Autumn Budget promised the NHS an additional £1.6 billion, plus a £350million injection to see it through the winter. Hospital leaders have said this provides less than half of what’s needed if the NHS is to sustain its service. Escalating health care costs are once again a budget battleground, and the battle is only going to get bloodier if the Government continues to fail to properly invest in prevention and public health.
To understand why NHS is under increasing pressure, you only have to look at our dinner plates. Overfed on processed junk, underfed on fresh veg, the average British diet is in poor shape. Diabetes treatment already constitutes 10% of the total NHS budget, while obesity rates are also on the rise. If current trends continue, 50% of British adults will be obese by 2050, adding considerably to the £6 billion bill the NHS currently pays for treatment. NHS Chief Exec Simon Stevens has described obesity as a “slow motion car crash of avoidable ill-health and escalating health care costs.”
Investing in prevention and public health, including in good food, is essential if these trends are to be reversed. The Soil Association’s Food for Life programme is demonstrating the potential benefits of such an investment. Public health teams are commissioning Food for Life to work in schools, nurseries, hospitals and care homes, getting children and adults cooking and growing and reconnecting with where food comes from. Independent evaluation has shown that the programme can radically shift dietary behaviours: pupils in Food for Life schools are twice as likely to eat their five-a-day compared to pupils in other schools, and eat around a third more fruit and veg overall.
However, the ability of public health teams to commission such important interventions is under considerable pressure. By 2020/21, the Government will have cut public health funding by £600 million, relative to 2014/15. Planned public health spending is already more than 5% less in 2017/18 than it was in 2013/14. These cuts to public health budgets threaten to undermine the programmes that work to prevent ill health and keep us healthy, such as Food for Life.
Health care costs will continue to be a budget battleground until the Government invests properly in prevention and public health, and particularly in the availability of good food. Good food is the cornerstone of good health. In the long run, prevention pays.
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