Hancock: Individual responsibility at the heart of health policy

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Individual responsibility is at the heart of Health Secretary Matt Hancock’s new policy for the future of the NHS.

Mr Hancock emphasised everyone’s responsibility to prevent ill health, which he said included staying in work and returning to work after serious injury.

There will be a greater use of technology such as genomics and artificial intelligence to predict illness, the Minister said, as well as continued work to reduce smoking and lower salt intake.

But in his statement to the Commons, Mr Hancock stressed personal responsibility, saying “everyone has a part to play” and responsibilities must balance with rights.

He said: “As well as the rights we have as citizens to access NHS services free at the point of use, we all have responsibilities too.

“Individuals have responsibilities and we want to empower people to make the right choices.”

Mr Hancock said part of this responsibility was “whether we have a job” and suggested employers should follow in the footsteps of the military at keeping people in work even after ill health.

He said: “Of course the record number of people in work is good news on this front and employers have a bigger role in helping their staff stay healthy and return to health after serious illness.

“This is where we can learn from the excellent record of our brave armed services, who have an 85% return to work rate after serious injury while the equivalent rate for civilians is only 35%.”

However, shadow health secretary Jonathan Ashworth said the Tories were ignoring the role of poverty and deprivation, refusing to recognise “some of the deepest cuts to the public health grant have been in areas of highest need”.

He said: “The shameful reality is people in poorer areas die earlier and get sick quicker.

“A genuine commitment to prevention would go hand in hand with a genuine commitment to ending austerity.

“That must start with reversing the public health cuts and blocking the £1 billion more cuts to health services to come next year.”

Mr Hancock did not accept the point, claiming there had been a fall in inequality under the Conservatives, and stressing the “record number of jobs” available.

He said: “He asked about the economic causes of ill health.

“Well the number one cause of economic ill health is not having a job – and there are record numbers of jobs in this country.

“If he says that inequality has an impact on ill health then he should probably welcome the fall in inequality we have seen under this Government.”

SNP MP Stuart McDonald later urged the Health Secretary to support minimum alcohol pricing as a means of prevention.

The Cumbernauld, Kilsyth and Kirkintilloch East MP said: “If he’s serious about supporting healthy choices surely he must bring to an end the free for all that sees supermarkets encouraging alcohol consumption and ludicrously discounted prices.”

Mr Hancock responded: “It is important that we tackle alcohol abuse and it is vital that we do this in the right way, now I don’t want to punish people who drink responsibly.”

In an earlier speech outside the chamber, Mr Hancock had said the NHS budget needed to be re-balanced because most prevention took place in primary care but the overwhelming majority of the NHS budget was being spent on acute care.

“The combination of prevention and predictive medicine have more than twice the impact on the length of healthy life,” he said.

“That isn’t just the difference between life and death.

“It is the difference between spending the last 20 years of life fit and active, or in a chronic condition.

(PA Graphics)
(PA Graphics)

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