In place of decisive action to stem the tide, the Government are employing a strategy of asking people nicely and hoping lifestyles will change; more a King Canute style policy of inflated self-belief based on little but hope rather than clearly mapped out actions and measures.
A new report from the York Health Economics Consortium due for publication in late May, warns that the majority of NHS spending on diabetes is avoidable. The ‘Impact Diabetes’ report, commissioned by Diabetes UK, the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation and Sanofi, suggests that 80% of the NHS’s £9.8bn annual UK diabetes bill goes on the cost of treating complications. Experts advise that much of this is preventable with better health checks and better education.
Baroness Barbara Young from Diabetes UK said; “The report shows that without urgent action, the already huge sums of money spent on treating diabetes will rise to unsustainable levels that threaten to bankrupt the NHS.
“If this rise in diabetes is allowed to continue, as is happening at the moment, it will simply be disastrous for the NHS and wreck NHS budgets. I think we have a car crash coming.
“But the most shocking part of this report is the finding that almost four-fifths on NHS diabetes spending goes on treating complications that in many cases could have been prevented.”
Among the areas requiring urgent attention from government is the ticking obesity time-bomb. However, far from acting decisively with strategy laying out clear actions and measures, successive governments have done fair impressions of King Canute sitting on the beach only in place of holding back the sea they believe they will hold back the obesity tidal wave.
In August last year the Telegraph reported that many of the world’s leading experts proposed that the time had come to tax unhealthy foods, the alternative maintenance of the status quo likely to result in nearly half of UK adults being obese by 2030.
Obese people suffer more with diabetes, heart disease and cancer posing a serious threat to the NHS’s ability to cope. The threat is so serious that The Lancet predicted that by 2050 fighting health problems caused by obesity would absorb over a third of the NHS’s budget.
Professor Steven Gortmaker, from the Harvard School of Public Health, said taxing unhealthy food and drink would save governments billions by reducing obesity-related illness as well as bringing in revenue. His analysis showed a ‘fat tax’ was the single most effective measure, in terms of lives saved. He said that such moves were effective and cost-effective to society.
Prof. Gortmaker went on to say that “so far, governments haven’t shown any leadership whatsoever. We have let the market do its work and it’s worked well to produce obesity.”
In the UK, Professor Klim McPherson, from Oxford University, criticised Coalition ministers for believing they could solve the problem without drastic action.
So, what of the Government’s strategy to tackle obesity?
David Cameron believes people can be “nudged” to better health by creating incentives to help them make better choices.
The Health Secretary Andrew Lansley has said, “rather than nannying people we will nudge them. Nudges are very important. Tax is not a nudge, tax is a shove.”
Anne Milton, the Health Minister sounded more tuned in to the scale of the problem when stating last August; “We’re too fat and we need to do something about it.” She then went on to state, “we have no plans to impose a fat tax.”
When Prof. Gortmaker advises that a fat tax would be “more effective and cost-effective to society,” he identifies key components of good strategy which is to be effective, efficient and economical. Good strategy cannot and should not be based on merely hoping for positive outcomes.
Taking lessons in strategy from King Canute is not wise. Perhaps someone could give the Government a nudge (or maybe a shove) in the right direction before the weight of obesity breaks our NHS.
© Jim Cowan, Cowan Global Limited, April 2012