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UK failing to reduce deaths from preventable diseases

Published on 06 November 2014 09:00 AM

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


Without a national plan for health improvement, led by the Prime Minister, the World Health Organisation's target of reducing preventable deaths by 25% by 2025 simply will not be met.

The call was made in a new report - What is preventing progress? - from The Richmond Group of Charities (of which Age UK is a member) which makes clear that if this 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.

Healthier lifestyles reduce risk

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.

The report also emphasises the importance of supporting those who already suffer from 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.

‘Radical upgrade' needed

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 report outlines 9 key calls to action through which political leaders and key decision-makers can ensure disease prevention is placed at the top of the agenda. These include:

  • A national plan for health improvement, led by the Prime Minister
  • Making public health the business of all Government, with all new policies and publicly funded programmes being assessed for their impact on health, and
  • Making prevention a key consideration in local authority responsibilities.

The report highlights 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.

Government's target ‘at serious risk'

Chris Askew, Chief Executive of Breakthrough Breast Cancer, commented: ‘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, commented: ‘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.'

Enormous social and economic costs

Dr Lou Atkins, from the Centre for Behaviour Change at University College London commented: ‘The key to success in preventing ill health will be to take a co-ordinated approach at policy, community and individual levels. It's not as simple as telling people what they should and shouldn't be doing to take care of themselves and those around them. The facilitators and barriers to behaviour change are complex and implementing changes that can reduce the risk of developing certain diseases is no mean feat. ‘

The social and economic costs of preventable disease are enormous: The Office of National Statistics has estimated that nearly 1 in 4 deaths are potentially avoidable, amounting to more than 100,000 deaths every year.

This does not include the many thousands living with disability or ill health as a result of preventable disease.

And the cost to the NHS for treating preventable disease could increase by £5bn a year between 2011 and 2018, while more than 100,000 deaths could be prevented if appropriate systems were in place.

Download the prevention report (PDF, 708kb)

Last updated: Oct 06 2017

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