A new report, A Covenant for Health, published yesterday, exposes the damaging effect that getting ill early in life with avoidable illnesses causes people, the economy and the healthcare system.

The report was led by a cross-party Commission of former ministers and health experts including Geoffrey, Lord Filkin CBE with Professor Kate Ardern; James, Lord Bethell; David Buck, The King’s Fund; Dr Paul Corrigan CBE, former Health Adviser, No 10; Professor Sian Griffiths CBE; and Professor David Halpern CBE, Behavioural Insights Team, with project support from The King’s Fund.

The iHV contributed evidence, insights and propositions to the Commission, alongside numerous other leading health organisations and charities including the Association of Directors of Public Health, the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health, and the Local Government Association.

The report outlines why change is needed. The “Old-fashioned” model of giving priority to treating illnesses and neglecting prevention has led to a “sickness explosion”. They state that “the time has come to fix the politics to reboot the health of the nation and develop an Emergency Programme for Better Health by all of society.”

It is urgent to act – the UK has among the worst population health in Europe, large health inequalities, and very many people become ill much earlier than they should. Without resolute action it will get worse. The good news is that change is possible. The report’s authors state that, “Too often in the past political leaders have focused on immediate pressures and been timid.”

The Commission concluded that with the right action across all parts of society, in 5 to 10 years, we should be able to:

  • help 3 million people quit smoking, halving our smoking rate
  • help 4 million people avoid becoming obese
  • help at least 4 million be more active
  • help more children be physically and mentally healthy, fewer at risk of obesity
  • reduce the 30,000 deaths a year from poor air quality
  • help 5 million people to reduce their risk of CVD, still 24% of all deaths
  • help the people and places where health is worst.

Commenting specifically on children, the report states, “Most parents want their children to be healthy. Yet many children have health risks and conditions and so are more likely to develop early long-term illnesses and later, risk falling out of work. There is no government strategy to improve children’s health, OHID have the lead but not the levers. We suggest a focus on four topics: obesity, mental health, physical activity and early years.”

The report also states that “The costs are small compared to the growth of the NHS’s budget and they would be born across society as well as by government. The benefits would be great. A new government should move fast, define early what it wants to achieve, prepare for it, legislate, if needed, and make difficult changes early.”

Commenting on the report, former Labour Government minister and Chairman of the Covenant for Health Commission, Lord (Geoffrey) Filkin, said:

“Our “health” system prioritises treating people when they are ill but grossly neglects action to keep them healthy. This outdated model means millions of lives are degraded by avoidable illnesses and results in unbearable costs for individuals, society, and the economy. We need a radical change of mentality to prioritise prevention with an Emergency Programme for Health. We know how to do so, we can make great improvements rapidly, and this essential reform will cost little.”

Lord (James) Bethell, former Conservative Government Health minister, said:

“The Office for Budgetary Responsibility made clear we are on the road to financial ruin unless we make our society healthier. The time has come to fix our politics so we can reboot the health of the nation. Our leaders should recognise the public do support measures to tackle smoking, obesity, heart disease and other chronic illnesses and address junk food, and dirty air, to support healthy communities and to engage people in their own health.”

At the iHV, we support the recommendations in the report for a Covenant for Health – a resilient cross-party commitment to build a healthier nation, and to develop partnerships for health with business, local authorities, and key charity groups.