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09 Apr 2021

Report on longevity calls for £3bn government investment to 'build back better health' in the UK
BY Tom Walker

The report has set a target of increasing healthy life expectancy by five years by 2035

The report has set a target of increasing healthy life expectancy by five years by 2035
photo: Shutterstock/EZ-Stock Studio

A parliamentary report is calling for a £3bn intervention fund to build back better health as we come out of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The report, called Levelling Up Health, has been produced by the All Party-Parliamentary Group (APPG) for Longevity and recommends a new approach to improve the nation’s health, identifying five key elements as part of a 10-year plan.

The pandemic has exposed huge health inequalities in society in the UK, with 90 per cent of those who've died with COVID-19 having significant prior poor health.

The most deprived places have had much higher mortality rates. Blackburn with Darwen, for example, has had 345 per 100,000 people die, five times more than South Cambridgeshire with 68 per 100,000.

Shockingly, the report shows there would have been 40,000 fewer deaths in the UK to date if the national COVID mortality rate had been as low as the least deprived places.

Levelling Up Health also found:

• 1.2m people aged 50-64 are not working for health reasons.
• Health inequality between north and south costs £13bn a year in lost productivity.
• In England, 30 per cent of the productivity gap between the North and the rest of England is due to ill-health.

"In building back better, the Government rightly wants to promote economic growth, improve our health resilience and reduce health inequalities," says the report. "A 10-year health-improvement plan, with targeted funding for areas with poor health, would deliver all three. A healthier nation would be a great asset and a great investment. There would be public support for launching such an ambition."

At its heart Levelling Up Health suggests "old ideologies" that have impeded public health progress must be discarded and that the "monopolisation of the NHS" in health policy "must be ended".

Damian Green, chair of the APPG on Longevity, said: “We need to confront ideologues on both sides.

"Those on the left who argue that the state must be responsible for all health matters and that the private sector has ‘no place in health’, and those on the right who oppose public health measures as an infringement of liberty."

The five key elements that the group argues for in the report are defined as follows:

1. "Ambition". Commit to becoming a much healthier and resilient nation, to increase healthy life expectancy by five years by 2035 and reduce health inequalities.

2. "Focus". Focus on the places with the worst health and on five major and tractable health issues – smoking, obesity, clean food, clean air, and healthy children.

3. "Leadership". Make the case for change, call for action across government and society and challenge those who damage our health.

4. "Health Improvement Fund". The fund would improve the health of communities with the worst health and who suffered most from the pandemic. Sixty local authorities should be offered a five-year partnership to improve their health, worth £10 million a year on average, totalling £600 million a year (£3bn over five years).

5. "Structures". Number 10/the Prime Minister need to promote the goals and ensure all government departments and agencies engage strongly. NHS Integrated Care Systems should set ambitious targets on health improvement.

The report also outlines how the government – and society in general – must also maximise the "great contributions that science, technology and data can make", in order to improve public health and radically reduce the harms from some additives products and marketing that damage health.

The APPG's Lord Filkin said: “All of society and all parties must seize this moment to improve our health, it is vital for our children and our society.

"We show how in this report, clear priorities for action, the need to challenge and change ideologies and organisations that harm our children and our health and a cross-party and cross-society commitment for a healthier nation. It is essential and possible to level up health across our country."

Responding to the report in a webinar earlier today, chief medical officer, Chris Whitty, made four key points:

1. It's vital public health works more effectively with the NHS. Whitty said these links are currently "sporadic" and need to be "more systematic", rather than being mainly the responsibility of individual practitioners.

2. It's important – where possible – to develop positive links with industry. Whitty said it would be difficult to have a positive relationship with the cigarette industry, for example, but that areas such as food held great potential for change. "We can have a strong relationship with the food industry," he said, "it needs to be healthier than it is at present."

3. Whitty said clean air is an important area for action and that it overlaps with the fight against climate change. "For the first time in history we have the opportunity to move to sustainable fuel sources," he said. "We have the technology now, it's just a question of whether we use it."

4. Evidence is a key part of the equation, said Whitty. "We have been weak in this area, and it's important that public health, local authorities and academia produce evidence so we can proceed with confidence."

The APPG for Longevity was set up in 2019 and is chaired by Conservative Party MP Damian Green.

It includes Labour peer Lord Filkin CBE as strategic advisory board chair and also has Lord O’Shaughnessy (Conservative Party), Rt Hon Lord David Willetts (Conservative Party), Baroness Camilla Cavendish (Conservative Party), Baroness Sally Greengross (cross-bench), Lord Kerslake (cross-bench) as core officers.

Other members include Sir Peter Bottomley MP (Conservative Party), Jonathan Lord MP (Conservative Party), Paul Holmes MP (Conservative Party), Lord Clement-Jones CBE (Liberal Democrats), Lord Patel KT (crossbench) and Rosie Cooper MP (Labour Party).

The creation of the report was managed by Tina Woods, founder and CEO of Collider Health, Collider Science and Longevity International and head of the secretariat for the All Party Parliamentary Group for Longevity.

To download and read the full Levelling Up Health report, click here.



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