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27.09.16

Public health must be embedded in all government policies to deliver FYFV

Better public health can only be delivered with a full government approach, the Academy of Medical Sciences has said in a new report.

The report, ‘Improving the health of the public by 2040’, recommends that each government department reviews how it obtains evidence and advice on health and health equity, in order to ensure that consideration of the health impact is included in new policies.

It argues that this approach is needed to address the increasingly complex challenges of a society with both increasing life expectancy and increasing health inequality.

Professor Dame Anne Johnson, Academy Fellow and chair of the working group that produced the report, said:  “Public health measures such as smoke-free and clean air legislation, safer food and workplaces, and vaccination have resulted in major advances in the health of the public. However society is evolving rapidly and new challenges are emerging that require a change in our understanding of public health.

“We need a public health system, and the research to support it, that takes account of the wide range of interacting factors that affect health to develop effective prevention measures that result in a healthier, fairer future for all.

“The health of the public shouldn’t just be at the heart of Department of Health policies – it should be at the heart of all government policies.”

The Health Select Committee’s review of the Health and Social Care Act 2012 found that it has failed to embed public health in national policy, and recommended establishing a minister with specific responsibility for the reforms.

The Academy said that taking a whole-government approach to public health was the only way to “deliver the focus on prevention and build on the efficient and effective use of resources identified in the NHS’ Five Year Forward View”.

Another recent report from the committee found that NHS England has failed to set out adequately how it will use the Five Year Forward View to achieve the £22bn of savings needed by 2020.

In addition, the Academy said that all government programmes addressing health and health equality should have independent evaluations of their short, medium and long-term effectiveness and efficiency built in from the start.

It recommended providing health and social care practitioners with training on the factors that drive the health of the public.

The Academy also said more support is needed for public health research, and called for the establishment of a UK Strategic Coordinating Body for Health of the Public Research to identify research needs and co-ordinate research activities.

Furthermore, it said that Public Health England, Health Education England and their equivalents in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland should establish regional research hubs and strengthen their mechanisms for obtaining independent evidence on public health.

Margaret Johnson, vice president of the Royal College of Physicians, said that physicians would need “time, funding and support” to engage in public health research.

She added: “We must not forget that though research and legislative change are important factors in improving the health of the public, we need to ensure that we engage the public and patient groups if we are to achieve sustainable change.”

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