Tracey Bleakley, Stuart Carroll and Ross Carroll summarise below the Bow Group paper published today, Putting the Health Back in Education. Tracey Bleakley is a Member of the Bow Group Health Policy Committee and is the Operations and Delivery Director for MEND (Mind, Exercise, Nutrition…Do it!). Stuart Carroll is a Senior Health Economist and the Chairman of the Bow Group Health & Education Policy Committee. Ross Carroll is a member of the Bow Group Health & Education Committee and a Public Policy Manager.
If the Coalition is to achieve its ambitious programme for Government – including keeping a tight lid on public spending in an effort to reduce the yawning budget deficit – it is going to have to find novel ways of extracting as much value as possible from public spending. Health education is undoubtedly one area in which the potential gains from a more focused approach could be enormous.
With an emphasis on preventative action and raising the overall health of the nation, health education can play a seminal role in introducing children to a healthy, equitable, and inclusive psychological and physical environment, delivering benefits that cross-cut Government departments and wider societal imperatives.
In our report published today, we call for health education to take its rightful place at the centre of health and education policy. This is important not just in terms of enhancing the quality of life of millions of people and improving individual health outcomes. Society as a whole would gain by having a healthier, and therefore more productive, workforce.
Indeed, health education offers its own unique value proposition to the wider economy, and could also have the added benefit of reducing the long-term burden on the NHS and ensuring our healthcare system is genuinely geared towards public health. As Charlotte Leslie MP comments in the foreword to our paper:
“Public health is about ensuring everyone, regardless of background, have the information they need to make informed personal choices – that is, they are informed about the results of actions”.
This can only be achieved through better health education.
Our report examines the plethora of health education policies and initiatives launched by the last Labour Government, alongside the clear absence of sustainable progress and improved outcomes. Lacking much-needed strategic focus and political leadership, the health education debate has badly lost policy momentum at a time when its significance has arguably never been higher. This is not least the case given the stated aims and priorities of the new Government’s Coalition agreement. These include:
- The unequivocal commitment to advance public health, reduce health inequalities, and move the NHS away from reactive healthcare to a more preventative model as outlined in the Government’s recently published Public Health White Paper, Healthy lives, healthy people: our strategy for public health in England;
- The pledge to ring-fence the NHS budget with real term spending increases over lifetime of the current Parliament with a strong emphasis placed on “Equity and Excellence” to improve patient health outcomes and healthy across the UK;
- The Government’s overriding theme of the “Big Society” and in turn the need for a “responsibility revolution” where individuals are empowered to improve their own health and lifestyle choices; and,
- The Prime Minister’s own personal assertion that the NHS is his number one priority and his ambition to see better public health.
It is from this perspective that a key challenge for the Coalition Government is to reshape the terms of reference of this critical policy debate, and push forward a real programme of reform to address the inadequacies of the prevailing approach to health education.
As the Government has recently said in its Public Health White Paper, “this is a new era of public health”. It is clear a new model for health education is now needed where competitive sport, healthy eating and better lifestyle education are at the heart of the Government’s approach. This is essential as part of the “information revolution” to bring dynamic learning to the class room.
Our paper outlines a number of options to revolutionise the way in which future generations approach daily and healthy living. Specifically, we propose a three-phase model:
- National campaigns targeted at specific groups, particularly those most in need, to encourage behaviour change as aligned with wider public health policy;
- Health education to form part of the core curriculum and wider societal initiatives to ensure children, families and communities have sufficient information to make informed choices and take responsibility for their health and wellness; and,
- Targeted health management as part of Extended Schools, developed nationally and delivered locally, utilising community partnerships, families and specialist providers at every possible opportunity.
We believe the above three-phase model would put outcomes and results at the heart of health education policy, equipping society with the skills and knowledge to take responsibility for their health and well-being in the long-term. This is seminal to tackling perennial health inequalities; seriously advancing any meaningful public health policy; shaping a more affordable and sustainable NHS; and reducing productivity losses and other indirect costs at a time of economic peril.
It would also go some way to implement the “Big Society” the current Government rightly aspires to and which has been emphasised as a policy imperative.