The Government has said ‘prevention is better than cure’ will be at the heart of the NHS Long-Term Plan. A key goal will be to improve healthy life expectancy by at least five extra years by 2035 and to close the gap between the richest and poorest.
That closely resembles one of the acid tests the NPA recently set out for the Long-Term NHS Plan, namely – will the poorest patients and communities benefit from the new investment promised? Other success criteria suggested by the NPA for the long-term plan seem to find a mirror in the vision document that accompanied Mr Hancock’s speech.
We asked: will the NHS be a truly neighbourhood health service as well as a national health service, with more services provided close to home by providers embedded in local communities? Mr Hancock’s document suggests that is indeed the plan.
We asked: will the health service look more like a wellness service than an illness service, with an effective programme for prevention and health improvement? Mr Hancock’s document suggests that’s the big idea. The focus must shift from treating single acute illnesses to promoting the health of the whole individual. And from prevention across the population as a whole to targeted, predictive prevention.
We also asked: will the potential of the entire health and social care workforce have been realised – not only doctors and nurses but local pharmacists and many others too? Mr Hancock said primary care services, such as community pharmacy, GPs, dentistry and optometry, are “a central part of our vision”, which means “prevention is everyone’s business”.
Of course, we have heard this kind of thinking before in plans announced in 2004, 2006, 2010 and 2014. While none of these led to a decisive shift from cure to prevention, that doesn’t mean they had no impact at all. Nor should it mean that we take a cynical view of the latest vision outlined by the health secretary. We have therefore briefed the officials tasked with developing the NHS 10-year plan about the potential of community pharmacy to prevent disease and maintain good health.
We set out one further test for the long-term plan. Will the NHS be using technology to achieve efficiencies but without having lost the human touch in healthcare, characterised by advice, support and treatment delivered face-to-face?
Matt Hancock never misses an opportunity to talk about the importance of tech in healthcare and his speech was no exception. “Using new digital technologies [will] help people make informed decisions, with more access to primary and community care and… stop people from becoming patients in the first place,” he said.
Actions speak louder than words, however. We want to work meaningfully with the Government on a properly funded, ambitious programme of prevention-focused activity that will make a real difference to the health of the nation.