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Tackling preventable illness must remain a top priority for the government in the 2020s. Over half of the disease burden in England is deemed preventable, with one in five deaths attributed to causes that could have been avoided. After many years of improvement, progress has stalled on reducing the number of people suffering from preventable illness. Moreover, compared to other high-income countries, we underperform on this metric.

This is not good enough, as the government has recognised in its prevention green paper and the NHS Long Term Plan. This is a welcome shift that begins to recognise the value of prevention in the health sector. Action to reduce the burden of preventable illness will pay off in terms of better health but also for our economy and public services. Prevention leads to longer and healthier lives. But it is also important because improved health drives greater wealth (in particular through higher workforce participation and productivity), makes the NHS and other public services more sustainable, and is a prerequisite of delivering social justice, given the inequalities in health present across our society. Prevention really is better than cure.

Key policy proposals:

  • Introduce a permanent disinformation unit
  • Launch a new public information – and listening – campaign to address the issues of disinformation and misinformation
  • Develop the NHS app with new features designed to encourage behaviour change
  • Invest in the capacity of schools to deliver better health education as a core part of the curriculum
  • Mandate the provision of one nurse (or other trained clinical staff member) per 600 school students to promote better health
  • Ensure everyone exhibiting risky behaviour or with a newly diagnosed condition has access to a personal care plan, social prescribing and peer support networks
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