Improving health is the key to ‘growth’

Improving health is the key to ‘growth’

18 Oct 2022

‘Growth’, and the means to achieve it, has been the subject of much discussion and turbulent change this month within government, the outcome of which will impact us all. The Office of National Statistics released last week is illuminating. It shows that despite unemployment figures remaining low, levels of ‘economic inactivity’ are high and rising, and that the increase is predominantly coming from greater ill health and disability. ‘Economically Inactive’ describes people of working age, who are not employed or seeking work. 21.7% of the working age population, 9 million people, are now economically inactive, and roughly 27% of this is due to ill health (other reasons include being a student or caring for a someone).

For people over 50, ill health is the most significant, and increasing reason for economic inactivity. The Health Foundation reports[1] that economic inactivity in the UK has increased by around 700,000 people since before the pandemic. This includes 300,000 people aged 50–69 years, who are at greater risk of never returning to work. Reasons for this increase include long Covid, increasing prevalence of mental illness and access to treatment and care from the NHS.

So, is the answer to economic growth simply increasing funding to the NHS? In the report ‘A Community Powered NHS[5]’, New Local (a collaboration of local councils) argue that transformative change is needed, not just more investment. The report analyses investment over time; spending on the NHS per person has risen nine-fold in real terms since the 1950s; for how long is this sustainable?

The report argues persuasively that the solution is a shift ‘away from mostly treating ill individuals within the hospital or clinic and towards working outside the healthcare institution with communities and partners to address the underlying causes of ill health’ recognising that ‘A very great deal of the work of prevention must be conducted by individuals themselves in the absence of the healthcare professional. This means a far greater emphasis on empowering individuals within the context of wider communities of support.’

Only when people are truly involved in their own health and feel ownership, are these trends likely to change. Ultimately we each need to feel that life is satisfying and worthwhile to find the motivation to look after our health, and then we need the information, guidance and support to do so. Once people are empowered; given the tools and resources to stay active, connected to others and able to access help and services to address wider issues, their health improves. At Involve we measure people’s perception of their health on a 0-100 point scale and people typically report 11% increases once engaged, motivated and supported. This is directly reflected in GP attendances; the NHS analysis of a group of patients supported by Involve with complex health showed their GP appointments reduced by 12% in six months.

Placing the wellbeing of people and communities at the heart of health and economic policy must be part of the long-term solution, only then will meaningful ‘growth’ be achieved.