Stopping people falling into poor health will become a fundamental focus of the long-term plan for the NHS, Matt Hancock says.
People are being encouraged to take more responsibility for managing their own health, as part of the government’s NHS strategy focusing on prevention.
Health and Social Care Secretary Matt Hancock announced on Monday a green paper entitled ‘Prevention is better than cure’, outlining the vision for a “new 21st century focus on prevention”.
The plans argue for a shift towards primary and community care services, to look at the early support they can offer people in preventing bad health taking hold.
Mr Hancock said in a speech at the International Association of National Public Health Institutes: “Prevention is also about ensuring people take greater responsibility for managing their own health.
“It’s about people choosing to look after themselves better, staying active and stopping smoking. Making better choices by limiting alcohol, sugar, salt and fat.
“But focusing on the responsibilities of patients isn’t about penalising people. It’s about helping them make better choices, giving them the all the support we can, because we know taking the tough decisions is never easy.”
Mr Hancock added the “numbers don’t stack up” when it comes to spending on prevention as opposed to treatment.
“In the UK, we are spending £97bn of public money on treating disease and only £8bn preventing it across the UK,” he said.
“You don’t have to be an economist to see those numbers don’t stack up.”
Mr Hancock later told Sky News the recent £20.5bn extra funding for the NHS was not reliant on a Brexit deal.
He also defended government plans to stockpile medicines, appearing to blame Brussels for the contingency.
“If the borders gum up and it’s hard to get lorries across on the ferries because of action the EU side takes, then we’ve got to make sure that people can have access to their medicines,” the health secretary said.
Public Health England is looking at “harnessing digital technology” as a form of “predictive prevention”, potentially leading to targeted health advice for people based on their their location and lifestyle.
Helen Donovan, from the Royal College of Nursing, welcomed Mr Hancock’s plans but urged serious investment at a local level to back them up.
She said: “Matt Hancock must realise his plans will start at a disadvantage as local authorities struggle with planned cuts to public health budgets of almost 4% per year until 2021.
“While it’s clear he sees that prevention isn’t an optional extra, we need to see properly funded, accountable services delivered by a fully staffed nursing workforce backed by adequate resources.”