Employers’ insights on the prevention of ill health in the 2020s

The Government has recently published a Green Paper focusing on ways to prevent ill-health in the next decade and is inviting employers of all sizes to share their insights through a consultation. This blog post outlines this approach and the role that employers can play within wider society and the health and social care system.

Background and context

Over the decades, traditional public health interventions such as improvements in housing, working conditions, immunisations and lifestyle advice have led to significant improvements in the nation’s health. For example, the UK now has one of the lowest smoking rates in Europe and life expectancy has increased by almost 30 years over the past century.

Despite advances in genomics, artificial intelligence and other new technologies, which bring increasing opportunities for a new prevention model that is far more personalised and targeted to individuals, in the UK we have an outdated perception of “health”. When our health is good, we tend to take it for granted. When it’s bad, we expect the NHS to do its best to fix it. The Government is keen to change the dial and encourage people to view health as an asset to invest in throughout their lives and not just a problem to fix when it goes wrong.

Moving to a prevention-focused model

In the next decade, Government believes that people will not be passive recipients of care. They will be co-creators of their own health and the challenge is to equip them with the skills, knowledge and confidence they need to help themselves and to lead healthy lives. With this in mind and with the recognition that health is both a shared responsibility and an opportunity, the Government has outlined proposals in its recently-published Green Paper, “Advancing our Health: Prevention in the 2020s”.

This consultation document looks at ways the health system could be shifted away from just treating illness and towards preventing problems in the first place. This is against a backdrop of tackling inequalities and multiple disadvantage and achieving a “parity of esteem” for how conditions are prevented and treated. The document is organised by the factors that shape our health outcomes: services we receive, choices we make, conditions in which we live, and our genes. Issues addressed include:

  • Proposals to launch a mental health promotion package that tackles risk factors and strengthens protective factors, by encouraging people to act to improve their own mental wellbeing, while supporting investment and provision of resources.
  • Reducing the impact that wider factors, such as problem drinking, drug misuse and poor sleep, have on health.
  • Supporting a lifetime course approach to prevention, incorporating healthy places, green spaces and clean air, and allowing for active ageing.

Ultimately, the aim is that a new personalised prevention model will offer the opportunity to build on the success of traditional public health interventions, capitalise on arising opportunities and provide the system and its parts with the ability to rise to new challenges.

The role of employers

Aside from the legal duties that employers have, under UK health and safety law, to protect the health and wellbeing of their employees, workplaces themselves can be hugely influential – positively or negatively – on the health and wellbeing of the individuals who work within them. Considering that working adults will spend a significant amount of their lives at work, the workplace offers a unique opportunity as a health-promoting environment. The culture of an organisation also has a role to play.

Employers are viewed as key stakeholders within this Government consultation and are invited to share their opinions on the proposals for a new approach for the health and care system.

The full consultation can be accessed by clicking on the link above, or you can skip directly to the consultation questions here.

Xenia Koumi

Xenia is a Public Health Specialist at the City of London Corporation and leads the Business Healthy programme