Expert urges Government to reset health and social care agenda more towards prevention

The Government has an opportunity to reset the health and social care agenda as a result of the virus crisis, according to a leading public health expert.

Sir Michael Marmot (pictured), director of University College London’s Institute for Health Equity, will say that a decade of cuts to the social infrastructure and public health must be reversed.

He will tell the Royal College of Nursing’s annual Congress on Monday that the pandemic has exposed and magnified health inequalities and the social and economic inequalities that lead to health inequalities.

He will add that these “damaging, widening health inequalities” must be addressed by focusing the health and social care agenda more on prevention.

He will say he has seen impressive levels of engagement from politicians at local level and in some of the devolved nations, in particular Wales, but that the UK government has yet to follow suit.

Sir Michael is expected to say: “The Prime Minister spoke in July about how we didn’t know why people’s life expectancies in Glasgow and Blackpool were much lower than in Hertfordshire and Rutland.

“We do.

“It’s down to the fundamental, societal issues like poverty, poor housing and children not having enough food to eat.

“We need to adopt a health and social care system which prioritises not just the treatment of illness but how it can be prevented in the first place.

“The pandemic has made it crystal clear over the last 18 months why public health and, more broadly, the social determinants of health, are so important.

“The health and social care agenda must be re-balanced more towards prevention.”

Pat Cullen, the RCN’s general secretary said: “Cuts to public health budgets must be reversed urgently.

“The impact on patient care has been appalling in areas such as smoking cessation, obesity services and sexual health clinics.

“We are calling for the Government to come up with a fully-funded health inequalities strategy to address the social determinants of health, and to deliver a long-term, increased, sustainable funding settlement for public health which includes investment in public health nursing.

“That the UK Government has failed to grasp what is clear as day to the rest of the country is deeply disappointing.”

Sir Michael will tell delegates the underlying problem is “not that central Government is telling local authorities not to act, it is that they have taken the funding away”.

The RCN said there has not been a national health inequalities strategy since the publication of Sir Michael’s landmark report Fair Society, Healthy Lives in 2010.

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