Preventing ill health saves money in the long run
Last week the Hackney Gazette published a front-page story about our Healthier Hackney Fund, quoting health campaigners concerned about funding being directed to the voluntary and community sector to support prevention projects, while NHS clinical services are under great pressure. Here, Cllr Jonathan McShane, Cabinet Member for Health, Social Care and Culture, explains the vital role of prevention in public health, both in making communities healthier and happier, and in reducing pressure on the NHS.
To say that the voluntary sector is no substitute for 'proper' health services, as the article implies, is a disservice to the fantastic local organisations that work tirelessly to improve the health and wellbeing of our residents. Furthermore, is it it is disingenuous to suggest that this money could instead fund clinical services that are the responsibility of the NHS, not the local authority.
Our public health role is focused on preventing disease and ill health, and promoting healthier lifestyles. I agree that the NHS faces significant challenges from the impact of efficiency savings and increased demand on services. That is why we have to get serious about prevention, which is the most effective way of reducing the heavy burden that ill health places on the NHS.
Investing in prevention is proven to save money in the long run. For example, smoking prevention programmes in schools have been shown to save up to £15 for every £1 spent. Smoking is considered to be a major cause of health inequality – the difference in health and life expectancy between the most and least deprived people, and causes almost a fifth of all deaths in Hackney.
Furthermore, the Kings Fund and Local Government Association have found that for every £1 spent on motivational interviewing and developing supportive networks for people with alcohol or drug addiction, £5 is saved by the public sector in reduced health care, social care and criminal justice costs. Getting one more child to walk or cycle to school can pay back many hundreds of pounds in health benefits and savings to the NHS.
The goal of the Healthier Hackney Fund is to find and support innovative projects that can make a significant difference to some of our most complex and intractable health challenges, in the areas of substance misuse, sexual health, smoking and mental health. We are proud to be working with the voluntary sector on these new ideas, whilst continuing to deliver our mainstream local authority public health services for the people of Hackney.
Whilst I also agree that there is a strong link between poverty and poor health outcomes - that should be seen as a challenge to be overcome rather than an excuse for failure. We have massive ambitions for the health of all our residents and we will continue to invest in prevention and encourage new ways of working to achieve them.