When I was appointed Health Secretary eight months ago, I stated my three priorities for the role. First, to focus on our brilliant NHS staff and make sure that they are well supported and well appreciated. Second, to put technology at the heart of the NHS. And third, to focus on prevention. In my job and with my incredible colleagues, we are working hard at the Department of Health and Social Care on the first two priorities, but it is all our responsibility to take care of the third one.
Prevention is critical to making the health and social care system sustainable. We need to concentrate on preventative care that is centred around individuals, and to make personalised health care plans with the right kind of personalised advice and intervention. Because what is right for one person, might not be right for the next. And the government has already started work on this. Via the healthy ageing grand challenge, we aim to ensure people can enjoy an additional 5 extra years of healthy life expectancy by 2035. And hopefully we can even out some of the health differentials in society. For example, in England, a boy born in the poorest parts of our country will die nine years earlier, and live 19 more years in poor health, than a boy born in the richest areas. Focusing on prevention, from the start of life all the way through to the end of life will help to put everyone on a more level playing field. Good health starts with the right pre-natal care, immunisation, nutritional support, fitness advice, minimising social media and mental health harms, secure employment, financial independence, safe housing, help with bad habits, and friends and family to fight loneliness.
So if we apply the old adage, “prevention is better than cure” to our own lives, we have the power not only to transform our health and our longevity, but society as a whole. It’s a question of rights and responsibilities. We expect the NHS to be there for us throughout our lives, free at the point of use, to give us the right healthcare we need.
Locally, there is very good work going on. We are leading the way here in West Suffolk, where our outstanding local hospital already works with community teams, the voluntary sector and increasingly with GPs in a way that other hospitals are starting to emulate. But for the NHS to remain sustainable, each of us has a responsibility to look after our own health – to keep ourselves fit and healthy, in order to reduce the pressures on our doctors and our hospitals. By taking personal responsibility through prevention, we can help to guarantee the long term future of the NHS, so that it is there to deliver for us when we need it.