Prevention better than cure

As the new government minister for the NHS Matt Hancock pledged recently- prevention (of ill health) is better than cure (medical treatments). Prevention is about helping people of all ages to stay healthy, happy and independent for as long as possible. This means reducing the likelihood of health problems happening and when they do, supporting people to manage their health conditions as effectively as possible. So the focus must be on keeping people healthy and not just treating them when they become ill.

By prioritising prevention, the NHS will save lots of avoidable costs and the workforce will be able to treat proportionately more seriously ill people and frail patients. There are national calculations that support this. Detection of diabetes is costly, but over a 20 year period the NHS in England should save £31.6 billion because people whose diabetes was diagnosed early realise that they must improve their lifestyle and lose weight, take medication to control their diabetes and so avoid complications of diabetes like losing their eyesight, having heart attacks and surgical operations. High blood pressure contributes to around 15% of all deaths of people living in England. Five million or more people in England have undiagnosed high blood pressure and so are at risk of strokes and heart attacks.

So doctors and nurses, physios, pharmacists, dentists, optometrists and social workers need to empower people to make healthier choices about their lifestyles and use all types of modern technology to get that promotion and support across. Self care is about a person’s attitudes and lifestyle habits, as well as what they can do to take care of themselves when they have a health problem. Supporting self care is about increasing people’s confidence and self esteem, enabling them to take decisions about the sensible care of their health and avoiding triggering health problems.

Q1.   I took my Mum, Pat, to her GP surgery for her annual asthma check with the practice nurse. She’s been much more wheezy recently- even the receptionist noticed it when she booked in. The practice nurse commented straightaway that she could smell cigarette smoke and that my Mum has not been ordering her asthma inhalers as often as she should. My Mum admitted she has been trying to wean herself off the inhalers in case she becomes addicted to them. Who’s right? Isn’t it better to take as few medicines as possible so you stay healthy?

A.    It’s really important for Pat to take regular preventive therapy for her asthma. Otherwise she might have a flare up and be so breathless that she will need an emergency admission to hospital for intensive care – or might even die before she gets there. So please try and motivate her to stop smoking, it needs to be a team effort with her practice nurse, family support and Pat herself at the centre understanding the consequences of not stopping smoking or being erratic about taking regular treatment, and being determined to see her grandchildren grow up!