The Disraeli Room

The Disraeli Room

Blog Post

We need to employ preventative strategies to save our NHS

8th August 2014

Isabella Miller argues that by tacking obesity and musculoskeletal conditions, the Government could reduce pressure on the NHS and save money

It is widely agreed that the NHS is in the midst of a crisis. As a result of Government funding pressures and a rise in complex and long-term conditions, the NHS faces a potential affordability gap of £30 billion by the end of the decade. An issue at the forefront of the political agenda, policy makers are urgently seeking ways to change the health system in a way that will allow it to meet the growing demand for healthcare whilst remaining free at the point of use.

Currently, Government focus is largely on structural reform of the NHS, with a view to easing pressure on the system for the near future. For instance, encouraging the integration of health and social care services is a step designed to make significant cost savings. Whilst this type of reform is of vital importance, the Government must not neglect the campaign against prevention and address the root causes of the health problems that are responsible for placing the strain on the health system in the first instance.

There are two issues in particular that, without preventative action, will undoubtedly bring the NHS to its knees: obesity and chronic musculoskeletal conditions (brought on by deskwork). These have several factors in common; they place significant stress on health services, they cost the taxpayer billions of pounds a year and they are preventable. Instant action is required to ensure that these will not impact on the NHS decades down the line.

Obesity, due to lifestyle choices and education, is a major problem and although not a medical condition in itself, it leads to a host of medical conditions, e.g. type 2 diabetes, high cholesterol, and osteoarthritis. In 2012, the NHS spent close to £10 billion pounds on the treatment of illnesses caused by bad diet, the equivalent to building 40 new hospitals. With the next generation in mind, we must focus on tackling obesity in children in the faith that eating well as a child will mean eating well as an adult. Currently, a quarter of UK school children leave school obese and it has been proven that packed lunches, crammed with sweets and sugary drinks, rarely meet a child’s nutritional requirements.

The Government’s initiative to provide school meals is a huge step forward in tackling obesity. Proving children with their nutritional needs the initiative will instil a mind-set in children, and through the regular exposure to healthy food, children will grow to accept the meaning of a good diet and begin to incorporate this into their lives outside of school walls. Alongside nutritional food in practice, schools must also educate children of the benefits of good food and the long-term effects of a poor diet. The combination of these steps will have a greatly beneficial impact on the NHS in the long-term.

With the rise of the Internet and associated technology, many of us are able to earn a living from the relative comfort of our desk. Unsurprisingly, studies have shown that remaining sedentary throughout the day is bad for health and increases the risk of diabetes and cardiac disease. While issues like these are often covered by the press, musculoskeletal disorders, such as repetitive strain injuries, back pain, and neck pain, are often sidelined in the public consciousness. Speaking from personal experience, suffering from a chronic musculoskeletal condition can affect an individual in a number of ways. First and foremost, it causes a person to suffer pain and affects their work output and mental wellbeing. Regardless of the effect on the individual, chronic musculoskeletal conditions by their very nature are long-term and are a cost to the NHS.

The diagnosis and treatment for chronic musculoskeletal conditions can involve a multitude of actors, GPs, musculoskeletal specialists, physiotherapists, and acupuncturists all at a cost to the NHS. Preventative steps can and must be taken. Companies must feel obliged, ethically if not legally, to ensure that posture awareness is promoted in the workplace. This should include one session, annually at the very least, to a physiotherapist for all employees, desktops and ergonomic office chairs, and every employee must be taught how to sit correctly and made aware of the repercussions of poor posture. Slighter harder to implement, although equally important, is an office culture that encourages regular breaks from the desk.

With preventative action, we can reduce the pressure that health issues such as obesity and chronic musculoskeletal conditions currently place on our health service. It is crucial that, alongside measures to tackle the NHS framework, the Government take action to limit and prevent the health issues that weigh heavily on the NHS.

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