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Focus on short-term spending ‘could widen health inequalities’

Charity says spending on illness prevention has been de-prioritised

The government is failing to invest in the nation’s health by focusing on short-term spending, the Health Foundation has warned.

The charity claims that over the past decade there has been a shift in expenditure from services and infrastructure that help people stay healthy towards addressing problems that could be avoided in the first place.

It said this short-term approach is storing up significant problems for the future and runs the risk of widening inequalities in people’s health.

The Health Foundation is calling on the government to look beyond short-term spending that just focuses on dealing with the most acute needs – whether in the NHS or other services – and make a longer-term commitment to investing in the conditions that keep people healthy in the first place.

It said it wants a whole-government strategy that re-balances investment towards areas of spending that maintain and improve everyone’s health – areas such as early years and youth services, housing and social security.

Jo Bibby, director of health at the Health Foundation, said a healthy population is vital to ensuring a successful economy and a thriving society.

“At a time when political energy is absorbed by Brexit, and with a one year spending round that will provide only a temporary sticking plaster, the longer-term issues that will shape the future health and prosperity of our nation are being overlooked,” she warned. “Despite the Health Secretary naming prevention of poor health as a top policy priority, our analysis shows that spending on prevention has been de-prioritised in recent years, with a failure to invest in people’s health long-term.”

Figures show half of the people living in the most deprived circumstances in England are in poor health by the age of 59, meaning they experience poor health two decades earlier than people living in the least deprived areas.

“This has consequences for their ability to work and play an active role in their communities and family life,” Bibby said.

One recommendation is to enable the NHS to play a stronger role in preventing ill-health as well as treating illness, including by supporting its role as an anchor in communities.