GPs and frontline staff should feel ‘confident’ to remind people of their ‘responsibilities’ in preventing illness, health secretary Matt Hancock said today, as he announced the Government’s long-term focus will be on stopping people becoming unwell.
Speaking at the International Association of National Public Health Institutes in London, Mr Hancock said he wants to see people taking ‘greater personal responsibility’ for managing their health.
The NHS needs a ‘radical shift’ in how it sees itself, said the health secretary, who called for the service to move from a ‘hospital service for the ill’, to a national service ‘to keep us healthy’.
He described GPs as the ‘bedrock’ of the NHS and that they ‘[should] feel confident to remind people of their responsibilities’, adding: ‘I want to see people taking greater personal responsibility for managing their own health.’
The disparity between the amount of NHS money spent on secondary acute care compared with primary care services was also highlighted by the health secretary.
‘Currently, we spend the overwhelming majority of the £115bn NHS budget on acute care. Last year, we spent just £11bn on primary care where the bulk of prevention happens. Yet the combination of prevention and predictive medicine have more than twice the impact on length of healthy life,’ he said.
His comments coincide with a new report released today by the Department of Health and Social Care that outlines the Government’s vision for improving prevention, as it develops its long-term 10-year plan for the NHS.
In the report, called Prevention is better than cure, Mr Hancock said the Government’s cash injection of an extra £20.5bn a year by the end of the next five years would provide a ‘unique opportunity to radically change the focus of health and social care onto prevention’.
The health secretary did not use his speech to provide any details about how far GP practices would receive a larger proportion of NHS funding in the future.
However in the DHSC report he said ‘greater funding for pre-primary, primary and community care – and support for the staff who work in these services’ is needed.
The report said primary care is a ‘central part’ of the plans and that the Government wants to see ‘GPs working more closely together and with other professionals such as pharmacists and community nurses’.
It said: ‘This could mean working together in the same building, or collaborating virtually, as a network.’
The report noted an example of GP practices working in this way included those operating in a federation, using multidisciplinary teams that include pharmacists, physiotherapists and GPs.
It said the ongoing independent review of the GP partnership model was exploring these models and that the Government will ‘say more on this soon’.
‘An independent review [the GP partnership review] is currently underway to consider how these models could best support primary care staff, other services and the populations they serve,’ it said.
More details on the Government’s plans will be made available in a green paper on prevention being developed from next year, the report added.
BMA GP Committee chair Dr Richard Vautrey welcomed the Government’s focus on prevention but stressed ‘extremely damaging effect’ of cuts to public health budgets in recent years.
He said: ‘As this strategy notes, improving people’s health requires public health initiatives to encourage wiser food choices, regular exercise and a change of lifestyle, including help to quit smoking and reduce alcohol intake.
‘However, with these services stretched, it is GPs and their staff, as the first point of contact for many patients, who bear the workload brunt when their local population’s health suffers.
‘The Government must therefore take responsibility for the part wider budget cuts have played in the nation’s deteriorating health.’
RCGP chair Professor Helen Stokes-Lampard warned any plans to expand community support must see some of the extra workforce based in general practice.
‘We must ensure that general practice does not lose out in the plans to expand community support and that any additional staff are allocated to GP teams, as well as community health services.
‘Investment in general practice is the most cost-effective way of providing care to patients, close to home where they want it, and keeping the rest of the NHS sustainable, long into the future,’ she said.
A version of this story was published on our sister publication Pulse.