Call for action-plan as UK set to miss preventable deaths targets

The UK will fail to meet international commitments on reducing deaths from preventable diseases unless it prioritises the prevention of ill health, a group of leading charities has warned.

In 2011, the UK Government signed up to the World Health Organisation’s (WHO) “25 by 25” goal to reduce deaths from the major preventable diseases by 25% by 2025, but without a national plan for health improvement, led by the Prime Minister, there are fears that this target simply will not be met.

What is preventing progress? – a new report from The Richmond Group of Charities, made up of 10 UK health charities including the British Heart Foundation (BHF), Breakthrough Breast Cancer and Macmillan Cancer Support – makes the case that if the WHO goal is to be achieved, local and national government, the NHS, public services, the private sector, charities and patients must all work together to put prevention first.

The report highlights how in England tackling common risk factors such as smoking, inactivity, unhealthy diet and alcohol would drastically reduce the number of people affected by common diseases such as heart disease, cancer, lung disease, type 2 diabetes, asthma and stroke, while helping to prevent or delay the onset of conditions like dementia.

Long term conditions

The report also emphasises the importance of supporting those who already have long term conditions so that they can take control of their condition, and reduce the risk of a life-threatening episode, a condition progressing or other illnesses developing. While much of the responsibility for these areas is devolved in Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales, many of the basic health challenges remain the same.

Last month, NHS England formally recognised the need for a radical upgrade in prevention and public health as part of its NHS Five Year Forward View. This ambition offers a welcome momentum, which political leaders should seize to make clear that they too are getting serious about prevention.

The group believes that while real action on prevention must be led from the very top – by the Prime Minister – it must also be prioritised throughout government, reaching across health through to education, housing, transport, planning, licensing and regulation.

Risk factors

Chris Askew (pictured), Chief Executive of Breakthrough Breast Cancer, said: “Preventable ill health costs the NHS and costs the economy, but more importantly means avoidable suffering. We know that many diseases – including breast cancer – have common lifestyle risk factors, and simple but effective measures can help individuals take control of their risk and manage existing conditions.

“We urgently need a clear plan for how we tackle these risk factors and support everyone to live healthier lives, and this will require everyone across government, the NHS, public services, the private sector, charities and patients to work together. Prevention must be a top priority as we enter an election year if we are to prevent tens of thousands of people dying needlessly, and living with avoidable conditions.”

Simon Gillespie, Chief Executive of the British Heart Foundation, said: “The government’s target of reducing preventable deaths by 25% by 2025 is at serious risk.

“They urgently need to take more action to tackle smoking, physical inactivity, alcohol and unhealthy diets to drastically reduce the number of people with heart disease.

“Tens of thousands are dying unnecessarily from heart disease, and hundreds of thousands more have to live with the burden of a condition which is largely preventable.

“A clear prevention strategy is crucial for cutting the number of deaths and cutting costs for the NHS that is already buckling under the strain.

“Everyone has a role to play in this. Along with taking steps to improve our health, we need to make it clear to politicians how important this issue is to patients, carers and the general public.”

Find out more about the work of The Richmond Group of Charities.