Published On: 14 September 2023Tags: ,

The government recently unveiled an interim report on the Major Conditions Strategy. The report ackowledges the poor state of public health in England, a nation grappling with plummeting life expectancies, soaring rates of chronic illness, and glaring health inequalities. The strategy, which seeks to confront major health issues: cancer, heart disease, musculoskeletal disorders, mental ill-health, dementia and respiratory diseases; marks a crucial step towards remedying the nation’s deteriorating health. However, the report’s potential power lies in its call for a shift in emphasis that goes beyond the NHS.

The health of a nation isn’t solely a matter of healthcare. It’s a complex interplay of environmental factors, socioeconomic disparities, lifestyle, and, fundamentally, policy decisions. The report contends that the factors driving these major health issues are, to a large extent, beyond the direct control of the NHS. Poor air quality, suboptimal nutrition, physical inactivity, and inadequate housing, underpin many major illnesses. These are issues that require a cross-sector approach.

This report raises questions about the distribution of resources from central government to local areas. Recent findings from the Institute for Fiscal Studies reveal a misalignment between funding allocations and the levels of deprivation and need in certain regions. This misalignment exacerbates health inequalities. The Major Conditions Strategy will have to address resource allocation, and political decision-making that extends beyond the NHS.

The report’s emphasis on the insufficiency of healthcare reform is right. It signals a major change in the government’s thinking – recognizing that the path to better population health necessitates intervention on multiple fronts. It underscores the need for a more comprehensive strategy that addresses the role of regulatory measures, corporate practices, and economic inequalities.

The report suggests the possibility of implementing bold measures, such as raising the legal smoking age or introducing a minimum unit price for alcohol, mirroring policies already in place in Scotland. These are not mere policy proposals but beacons of potential transformation in the fight against major conditions. The final strategy, expected in early 2024, will be a test of the government’s commitment to these ideas.

Looking beyond immediate concerns, whichever government assumes power after the anticipated 2024 general election will inherit the formidable task of grappling with the growing burden of illness. The independent Covenant for Health offers a menu of policy recommendations that promise tangible progress in prevention. From reforming the composition of food products to investing in the most marginalised communities and scrutinising the impact of Treasury policies on health, these recommendations hold the key to building a healthier nation.

Yet, the true transformation we seek goes beyond mere policy prescriptions. It necessitates a profound shift in perspective—a recognition that treating illness is insufficient. To confront major conditions head-on, we must address the underlying factors, including systemic racism, gender disparities, and poverty. The strategy must embed health equity impact assessments into the fabric of all government policies.

The Major Conditions Strategy is not merely a roadmap for healthcare reform; it’s an incitement to reimagine the very concept of health. It challenges us to confront the myriad determinants of health and the intertwined web of policies that shape our well-being. It beckons us to be bold, to take action where it matters most, and to envision a future where health isn’t a privilege but a fundamental right. In this transformation, we have the power to redefine health, to reduce inequalities, and to create a society where everyone can truly thrive.