It’s no secret that our health service faces significant challenges over the coming months as we recover from the pandemic, tackle the growing number of people on waiting lists and the increase in patients coming forward for help. All whilst having to deal with the longer-term challenges of an ageing population, and a rise in people living with chronic conditions and health inequalities.
We protected the NHS to make sure it was there for everyone who needed care and I am incredibly grateful for the tireless efforts of GPs and their teams, Primary Care Networks, community pharmacy, community health teams and dental teams, who have kept serving patients throughout the pandemic. There have been over 309 million appointments to get vaccines in arms while also treating patients for other health concerns.
We want to help make your lives easier and support you as we learn to live with the virus, so you can deliver the best care possible to your patients without being bogged down with unnecessary paperwork or hurdles.
We have learnt a lot over the past year, reinforcing that joined up working across the system – from the NHS and social care through to local and national government – is essential to delivering better care. We’ve seen through the delivery of the Covid-19 vaccination programme that the NHS can respond quickly to work with other organisations to protect people and improve public health and bring new ways of working to the fore.
The pandemic has also shone a light on the link between infectious diseases such as Covid-19 and other conditions such as heart disease and diabetes, and the urgent need to do more to prevent ill-health among our communities. We know prevention is better than cure and that by taking action to prevent ill health, we will reduce the burden on the healthcare system in the long term.
Our Health and Care Bill will help deliver this and put the NHS’ own proposals for reform into legislation. It will support better collaboration between health services, social care, local authorities, and public health and do away with unnecessary bureaucracy. GPs have played a vital part as Integrated Care Systems (ICS) have developed on the ground, including making effective use of GPs’ unique knowledge of their local communities and addressing health inequalities; they will be central to the future success of the model. A representative from general practice is included as a statutory minimum member of the board of each ICS NHS body.
These reforms place more emphasis on preventing ill health by embedding prevention measures across national and local government and the NHS – from oral health to obesity. The launch of the new Office for Health Promotion later this year will also lead national efforts to improve the public’s health and level up health inequalities.
Oral health is one area where regional differences are stark – 32% of children in the North West have tooth decay compared to 18% in the South East. It is a largely preventable issue yet many children are admitted to hospital for painful tooth extractions, costing the NHS around £50 million a year. As part of the Bill, we are proposing measures to increase water fluoridation in our water network in England. Fluoridation is safe and effective at reducing decay and this simple measure will ensure people are getting adequate fluoridation through their tap water, reducing hospital admissions for tooth extractions by up to 68%.
We are also looking to tackle childhood obesity by limiting advertising on TV and online of products high in fat, salt and sugar – which could wipe over 7 billion calories from the national diet every year. Childhood obesity remains one of the biggest health problems this country faces, with 1 in 3 children leaving primary school already overweight or living with obesity.
Evidence suggests that children’s exposure to advertising for high in fat, salt and sugar products can affect what children eat and when they eat. By limiting advertising on TV and online, it will encourage healthier food choices and reduce the number of children living with obesity that go on to develop conditions associated with excess weight, such as type 2 diabetes, coronary heart disease, stroke, colorectal cancer, liver disease and breast cancer later in life. Once again, preventing ill health and reducing the burden on health services.
GPs will play a crucial role in delivering on our vision, not just in providing care to your patients but because you have a unique understanding of your local communities. You are a key part of what this Bill represents and primary care continues to be at the very forefront of our work to level up health inequalities across the country.
Jo Churchill MP is the minister for public health, primary care and prevention, and MP for Bury St Edmunds