The government has again objected to the second reading of my Health Impacts Bill which would place a requirement on all national and local public authorities to take people’s health into account when making decisions.
I won’t be giving up. The Bill will be back in the House of Commons on Friday January 25 and I am calling on Health Secretary Matt Hancock to back it.
My Bill takes a ‘health in all policies’ approach. It means that national and local policies would only be implemented after the impact on people’s mental and physical health had been fully assessed and it is clear that the decision would not have a detrimental impact on the nation’s health.
With people living for longer and with more co-morbidities, the NHS is increasingly stretched. Almost 4.6 million people in the UK are living with diabetes, every two minutes someone is diagnosed with cancer and there is an obesity epidemic.
There are other emerging challenges which we are only just starting to understand, such as the consequences of loneliness and the impact of poverty, discrimination and technology on our mental health. Health inequalities are also widening.
It is truly shocking that in 2014-2016, the gap in life expectancy between the richest and poorest areas of England was 9.3 years for males and 7.3 years for females.
The scary reality is that we are at risk of the demand for healthcare outstripping the level of resources available. The NHS has just celebrated its 70th birthday and if we want it survive for decades to come, more people need to be able to live healthier lifestyles. Individuals have a role to play in the decisions they take about their diet, exercise, alcohol consumption, smoking etc. But national and local governments can also make choices which ensure environments to support healthy lifestyles.
Almost every government policy you can think of can have either a positive or a negative impact our health. When we design new towns or developments, we need to build in opportunities for walking, running, cycling, gardening, socialising and measures to help people to feel safe.
With changes to the benefits system, we should consider how it will impact on people’s mental health and on their ability to afford food and to pay the rent. When the school curriculum is designed, we should ensure that topics such as diet, exercise, substance misuse, mental and sexual health are always included.
It is encouraging that the government has said that it will look at the evidence of what a ‘health in all policies’ approach could look like, as part of a Green Paper on Prevention due to be published next year.
I will await the results of this investigation with interest. While we are waiting, I am calling on Matt Hancock to get on board now.
In adopting this approach we can tackle our nation’s serious health challenges in a meaningful way and help ensure our NHS survives.