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OPINION

‘Disease prevention is vital to ease pressure on health services’

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The nursing contribution to disease prevention and population health extends beyond the specialties of public health and public health nursing and midwifery to what each nurse does in practice every day.

We are all professionals and we have millions of contacts each year with people of all ages, across all areas. The public trusts us. This brings opportunities and responsibilities when they are ill, of course, but increasingly it means helping people stay as well as possible for as long as possible. Improving the public’s health requires action above and beyond health and social care but it is vital that professionals and organisations in those sectors play their part.

“It is not easy to extend from a model focused on illness and treating the individual to one for prevention and building public resilience”

The Five Year Forward View sets out an ambition for a radical upgrade in prevention to close the health and wellbeing gap and – as an essential contribution to the future of the NHS – economic prosperity and a healthy society. Health-promoting practice is about preventing disease, protecting health, promoting wellbeing and resilience, and contributing to reducing health inequalities.

The national framework for nursing midwifery and care, Leading Change, Adding Value, sets out three commitments for prevention and population health, which we need to embed in nursing practice and can really make a difference to individual and population outcomes.

It is not easy to extend from a model focused on illness and treating the individual to one for prevention and building public resilience – it is even more difficult when services are under such pressure, but we know prevention must be part of the sustainability solution.

Prevention tends to fall under the radar: there are few headlines about stopping people getting ill. It is unlikely we’ll ever see headlines such as ‘Millions avoid flu this winter after having vaccine’ or ‘Man reaches 70 without serious illness due to healthy eating, keeping fit and not smoking’.

Instead we read about the pressures placed on services as a result of issues like obesity, diabetes and excessive alcohol consumption. We need to prevent or reduce the impact of these and other avoidable conditions if we are to ease the pressure on services and individual practitioners, and improve the health of all of us.

“We need to prevent or reduce the impact of these and other avoidable conditions if we are to ease the pressure on services”

This is why we at Public Health England named our call to action All Our Health. Visit here to find out more and access our range of supporting resources. Our topic pages include: facts and statistics; core principles; interventions at individual, community and population level; outcome measures; and signposting to other resources – there is something for everyone.

Two topics that are showcased in Leading Change Adding Value have been described as the greatest public health challenges of our time: antimicrobial resistance and obesity. All Our Health contains topic guides on both subjects and shows how all nurses can have a positive impact on these major challenges, whether they are working with individual patients and their families, with communities or at a strategic and population level.

We will showcase work on these topics soon so, if you have examples of work that can be used to increase the visibility of the impact nursing has had – and can have – on public health, please do share them with us.

Viv Bennett is chief nurse at Public Health England

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