Patients should be asked about their diet, smoking and drinking habits every time they see a health professional, according to government advisers.
The NHS Future Forum wants lifestyle issues to be discussed as a matter of routine, even when individuals are suffering an unrelated illness.
The changes are designed to prevent ill-health and the massive cost burdens it imposes on the health service.
The forum’s call to make “every contact count” is the centrepiece of a report commissioned by the Health Secretary Andrew Lansley, and due to be published next month.
Professor Steve Field, who heads the advisory body, said all healthcare professionals - not just doctors and nurses, but also midwives, physiotherapists and pharmacists - should pro-actively raise lifestyle every time they see patients.
He told the Guardian: “In future if you come for your flu vaccine at a GP’s surgery or pharmacy, the health professional should give you your injection but also use the opportunity to talk to you about your diet, smoking, alcohol intake and how much exercise you’re taking, discuss any anxieties you may have about these, and offer and advice and support.
“Similarly, a podiatrist who’s looking after the feet of a diabetic patient has an absolute responsibility to talk to the patient about their smoking, because smoking makes diabetes worse and means the patient is more likely to have a foot amputated.”
While raising personal behaviour was likely to be a delicate matter, patients’ trust in health professionals should ensure such conversations resulted in those who need it receiving help, he said.
The damage from “risky behaviour” was so alarming that staff must make “a cultural shift” in how they use their time with patients, he added.
“The NHS needs to change from patching people up when they are ill to promoting healthy living and preventing illness.”
According to the Guardian, the forum’s report states: “Every healthcare professional should ‘make every contact count’; use every contact with an individual to maintain or improve their mental and physical health and wellbeing where possible, in particular targeting the four main lifestyle risk factors: diet, physical activity, alcohol and tobacco - whatever their speciality or the purpose of the contact.”
“A visit from a midwife or health visitor is an opportunity to talk about a new parent’s anxieties and consider options for accessing mental health support. Collecting medication from a pharmacy is a chance to offer someone help with cutting down on alcohol. A pre-surgery check-up is an opportunity to talk over concerns about smoking, diet and physical activity.”