Friday 20 December 2013

Rounding-up 2013's public health debates and looking forward to the coming year

2013 has proved to be a significant year for English primary care. With the transition of public health from PCT to local authority, April saw the introduction of a whole new system of structures for healthcare commissioning and provision. Whilst it’s still too soon to say whether this move has delivered the desired effect of making local health services more relevant for the communities they’re provided for, the indications from the second half of the year suggest that there’s an increased sense of stability in the sector by comparison to this time last year. For many however, this will hardly come as a surprise given how many NHS departments, let alone individual positions, had uncertain futures twelve months ago.

Plain packaging

One of the biggest public health stories from 2013 was the debate around the plain packaging of tobacco products. The issue became increasingly mired in controversy after it emerged that Lynton Crosby – a campaign consultant at the heart of Downing Street – was also actively representing the interests of the tobacco industry. Although out of the limelight for the time being, this issue along with other public health measures such minimum unit pricing are unlikely to be out of focus for long. Their importance in combating what Dr Zafar Iqbal and others have described as the ‘social and market forces which help to perpetuate health inequalities’ will undoubtedly mean their re-emergence in 2014. Our coverage and perspective on the story can be revisited here.

CVD prevention

The summer also saw Public Health England placing an increased emphasis on promoting cardiovascular disease prevention. However as PHE and the Health Secretary served up the evidence on the predicted benefits of England’s flagship CVD prevention programme – the NHS Health Check – others were voicing their doubts as to the projected net gain. As it has emerged, many of the charges levelled against the programme by critics have been based on misrepresentations of the English model of CVD prevention. Again, our in-depth critique which draws out the specifics of the argument can be read here.

Going forward: the macro view

Fortunately, for those on the ground and working hard in communities to provide the health checks and increase awareness on the effects of poor lifestyle behaviours, the news looks positive. Recognising that ‘doing nothing’ in regard to national health inequalities ‘is not an option’, NHS England’s chief financial officer this week announced an increase in funding for NHS commissioners from £96bn to £100bn over the next two years. As well as the increased budget, a new funding formula for local health commissioners ‘that more accurately reflects population changes and includes a specific deprivation measure’ is said to be being introduced. With the NHS Health Check at the very centre of CVD prevention policy, these announcements should provide the means to continue increasing the efficiency and effectiveness of a programme that is already estimated to ‘prevent 1,600 heart attacks and strokes, at least 650 premature deaths, and over 4,000 new cases of diabetes each year’.

Developments at Health Diagnostics

With this comprising the macro-outlook, a big question going forward for us at Health Diagnostics is: how can we best support the drive to alleviate health inequalities and the growing social and economic burden of cardiovascular disease in our own capacity? We’ll certainly be working hard to continue providing a first-class service to all our NHS partners, however in addition a handful of the new developments will include:

  • Working closely with reputable academic institutions to help establish empirical outcome data on the efficacy of the NHS Health Check. The potential benefit of using Health Options® software in delivering the health checks will be investigated in particular.
  • A new software release is planned for January 2014. This latest version will include some exciting new developments including the integration of the Diabetes UK questionnaire.
  • To coincide with this software release, Health Diagnostics are launching the new range of client report fact sheets. With a keen emphasis on design and clarity, the new reports are intended to facilitate the communication of essential health information. With tens of thousands set to be distributed, the team at Health Diagnostics have been working hard to make the reports as coherent, concise, and informative as possible.
  • We’ll again be attending the Commissioning Show in June, with details set to be announced closer to the time. To view the findings of the events run in conjunction with the 2013 show, click here.
Until 2014 then, wishing you a happy and healthy Christmas and new year!