Fit for the Future: How a Healthy Population Will Unlock a Stronger Britain

Axel Heitmueller Senior Associate Fellow

Martin Carkett Policy Lead, Science & Innovation Unit

Paul Blakeley Life Sciences Policy Lead

March 24, 2023
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In our paper A New National Purpose: Innovation Can Power the Future of Britain we set out the need to both harness the power of new technologies and to create a streamlined, strategic state to revolutionise the delivery of public services.

Nowhere is this approach more urgently needed than on the country’s health. By moving at speed to create a new public-service model, with the right enabling policy infrastructure, it will be possible to increase population health, unlock long-term economic growth and make Britain fit for the future.

While detailed evidence on the drivers of population ill health is still emerging, it is clear that individual factors including lifestyle, the environments in which we live and the genetic material we inherit account for between 70 per cent and 90 per cent of what constitutes health. In contrast, treating sickness accounts for as little as 10 per cent, but consumes more than 90 per cent of available resources.

Health-care demands continue to increase while costs are spiralling as health takes up an ever-higher proportion of public spending. At the same time, outcomes are deteriorating, with UK life expectancy stagnating and health inequalities on the rise. So, we’re all paying more and more to achieve less and less.

These problems are being driven by our current approach, which is almost entirely focused on treating sickness. As a result, the National Health Service (NHS) is overwhelmed by rising demand, with more than 7 million people waiting for treatment. This was brought home during the recent winter crisis, which resulted in thousands of excess deaths and showed the cost of ongoing inaction.

What’s more, with more than 2.5 million people out of the labour market due to long-term ill health, any sustainable plan for growth needs to have improving population health and prevention at its heart.

This calls for a paradigm shift: we must begin to treat individual and collective health as a national asset. Government must focus its efforts and resources on creating the conditions in which population and individual health can flourish.

This means much greater political attention and public funding directed towards preventative-health measures alongside support for the drivers of good individual health, including personal, environmental and workplace factors.

In our report, we lay out the new policy architecture needed to drive progress – and allow us to create health, not just treat sickness.

Read the full report

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