Can we take full responsibility for our own health? We ultimately decide what food to eat and the level of exercise to take. But what if we have restrictive food allergies or a mental health problem means we struggle to get to the gym?
Public health campaigns aim to empower people. By investing in services, which ensure people have access to the facilities they need we can support their wellbeing and prevent future illness.
We all know that health and social care budgets are tight, and that the pressure on resources is going to increase further as our ageing population grows. Prevention programmes are one area where spending money now really can save us money in the future.
I recently attended Public Health England’s annual conference, where I took part in a discussion about the cost effectiveness of programmes to prevent ill-health. It was great event. I was inspired to hear how colleagues working on the frontline of our health service are embedding the promotion of healthy living into their everyday work.
One example that struck me came from a psychiatrist in Birmingham. Physical health can often be overlooked in the face of severe mental illness. Therefore, it was encouraging to hear him discuss the support given to people to exercise whilst in hospital. This is very important when you consider that some of his patients may be admitted for up to two years.
So how can NICE support the prioritisation of public health programmes when budgets are being cut? After all it’s tempting to spend our money tackling problems that already exist, rather than preventing the problems of the future.
A main point to make here is that our guidance identifies and outlines what works. We assess each programme to ensure it is cost effective, and it is encouraging to note that most public health programmes are cheap and very effective.
NICE have developed three return on investment tools for tobacco, alcohol and physical activity. These aim to help local organisations map out how much money they could save in the long-run by investing in healthy-living programmes now. We plan to publish two more tools focusing on mental health and children shortly.
One of the best things about public health programmes is that they are supportive. They do not rely on costly drugs or complex technologies. And they do not place blame on the individual, instead they seek to work alongside them to improve their wellbeing.
By ensuring the programmes are based on solid evidence, have a positive impact and deliver value for money we can use them to prevent future pressures on the health and care system.