Preventable death vow 'off-target'
The UK will miss international commitments on reducing the number of deaths from preventable diseases unless it prioritises the prevention of ill health, a group of leading health charities has warned.
The World Health Organisation's (WHO) target of reducing preventable deaths by 25% by 2025 will not be met unless there is a national plan to improve health, the Richmond Group said.
The group of 10 charities, which includes the British Heart Foundation (BHF), Breakthrough Breast Cancer and Macmillan Cancer Support, is calling for the government, both locally and nationally, and the NHS, public services, the private sector, charities and patients to all work together to help meet the WHO goals.
Nearly one in four deaths - more than 100,000 deaths every year - are potentially avoidable, according to estimates from the Office for National Statistics.
A report by the group, being launched at a parliamentary reception today, outlines nine key recommendations to put disease prevention at the top of the agenda.
A national plan for health improvement, led by the Prime Minister, should be created and prevention should be made a key consideration in local authority responsibilities, the group suggests.
Public health should also be made the responsibility of all parts of government, with all new policies and publicly funded programmes being assessed for their impact on health.
Action on prevention of diseases should be prioritised throughout government, the report recommends, from health to education, housing, transport, planning, licensing and regulation.
The report also highlights that 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. It would also help prevent or delay the onset of conditions like dementia.
It also emphasised the importance of supporting people suffering from long-term conditions so they can take control of their condition, helping reduce the risk of a life-threatening episode, a condition progressing or other illnesses developing.
The group is calling on political leaders to build on the momentum of NHS England last month formally recognising the need for a radical upgrade in prevention and public health as part of its NHS Five Year Forward View, and urged them to make clear they are serious about disease prevention.
Chris Askew, 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 BHF, said the Government's target of reducing preventable deaths by 25% by 2025 is at serious risk.
He said: "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."
Dr Lou Atkins, from the Centre for Behaviour Change at University College London, said a "co-ordinated approach at policy, community and individual levels" was key to preventing ill health.
She said: " 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.
"We must harness all of our collective efforts and draw on behavioural science. Only through doing that will we achieve significant progress in disease prevention."
Meeting the WHO's goal in England by 2025 will be a challenge, the Richmond Group warned.
To do so would require 2.6 million fewer adults in the smoking population, 1.3 million people becoming physically active and almost 10 million reducing their daily salt intake to recommended levels, as well as 430,000 fewer adults drinking at harmful levels.