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The way to improve public health

13th January 2008

In a leading article, The Independent says there is only one way to improve the health service.

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Gordon Brown’s declaration of intent to turn the NHS from a sickness service to a preventive service is eye-catching.

It is difficult to argue against a strategy of detecting disease early but true prevention means targeting the influences that not only trigger disease but sustain it.

The University of Cambridge report investigating the impact of four “healthy? behaviours on average lifespan, shows just how much there is to gain after it emerged that avoiding smoking, taking exercise, drinking moderately and eating five portions of fruit and vegetables a day can add 14 years to your life.

It shows that if the Government is really serious about our health it must confront the junk food industry, impose more radical curbs on smoking, and aggressively increase opportunities for exercise. It must change social behaviour by taking on the many vested interests that promote fast food, motoring and alcohol abuse.

These are the hard choices that the Government faces – but there is little sign yet that Gordon Brown has the stomach to take them.

Expanding screening programmes, or introducing new ones, will make a minor contribution to improving the health of the nation. But if this means shifting cash from one part of the NHS budget to another it is unlikely to improve overall health.

As his first initiative of 2008, Mr Brown’s promotion of screening as a means to transform the NHS looks like little more than window dressing.

 

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