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By Jamie Waterall, National Lead for Cardiovascular Disease Prevention and Associate Deputy Chief Nurse at Public Health England, and Honorary Associate Professor at the University of Nottingham

Over recent weeks, we’ve seen constant media reporting about the increased pressures our health and care system is experiencing.

There’s no disputing that the NHS is facing ever greater demands, often linked to our aging population and many more people living with long-term conditions such as heart disease, diabetes, dementia and certain cancers.

But it’s worrying that most of the news reports only focus on the need for more acute hospital beds and ambulances, rather than discussing the need for a radical upgrade in prevention to reduce demand on these services.

As public health professionals we know that there are no easy solutions to the pressure on our health and care system. These are complex problems, requiring a whole-systems response.

However, we also know that many of the health issues keeping our hospitals so busy are preventable. Having worked in acute medicine and cardiology for a number of years I witnessed the scores of patients I treated who were admitted to hospital with conditions that could have been delayed or avoided altogether.

And when working in the acute trust environment, I would have agreed that more beds and acute services was the answer to our problems. It was not until I was working in primary care as a nurse consultant that I became more aware of the need for an increased focus on prevention.

So I frequently ask myself; how can we better harness the skills of our trusted front-line professionals, ensuring we all get behind this radical upgrade.

Our research informs us that there’s real appetite to build more prevention into our daily practice, however it also shows us that there can be barriers and challenges.

Time and resource is of course an issue, but we’ve heard that some professionals can be apprehensive about talking to members of the public about their weight, for instance, or whether they smoke or keep active. We also know that there can be uncertainty about the availability of local lifestyle services to refer patients to.

With all this in mind, Public Health England has developed All Our Health, a framework which supports all health and care professions to get more involved in the upgrade in prevention. It provides tools and advice to support ‘health promoting practice’ with quick links to evidence and impact measures and top tips on what works.

Based on user research we’re making improvements to All Our Health as well as forging new links with universities and Health Education England, so we can build more prevention into the way we train our future professionals to practise in this different world with new expectations and opportunities.

We also hope All Our Health will help health and care professionals to engage with the local public health system, including getting involved in the development of prevention initiatives.

Surveys of the public constantly show that our frontline health staff are amongst the most trusted professionals in our communities. Just imagine the impact if our estimated two million health and care staff built more prevention into their practice. We could truly achieve the radical upgrade we so urgently need to see.

For further information and to read more about All Our Health, click here.

 

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