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Improving public health requires a whole-society approach

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Public health has long been the poor relation in the healthcare family. While preventing ill health may seem an obvious candidate for generous funding, too many aspects of this important area of healthcare have been largely sidelined for decades.

Unfortunately, most public health interventions can be seen as making long-term investments. It takes years to reverse trends such as rising obesity and type 2 diabetes. In the absence of results to justify funding, public health has tended to lose out to the services dealing with patients who have already developed these conditions.

Now the NHS has a body responsible for public health in each of the four countries in the UK. Hopefully this means ring-fenced funding and dedicated focus will begin to make inroads into the long-term causes of ill-health that will otherwise eat up the lion’s share of NHS budgets.

However, as the chief executive of Public Health England recently acknowledged, most causes of poor health are not related to healthcare, but to economic and social issues such as employment, housing and companionship.

Nurses and other professionals working in public health do great work, but they need more than just serious funding for long-term initiatives.

They need our increasingly unequal society to realise that a long-term investment in reducing poverty may involve some short-term financial pain for the more comfortably off, but that in the long term we will all benefit.

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