Health Podcast – The Elephant in the Room

In the latest of the Green Book podcasts we’ve looked at health, not from the usual angle of the NHS itself but at the health of the UK population.  If you missed it last month, you can still catch up

Why is it that we have one of the unhealthiest populations amongst developed countries? What might that mean in terms of demand and costs in the NHS, apart from all the wider social and economic consequences?  

It’s not as if this is news, as it has been covered in detail by people like Sir Michael Marmot, with his reports going back to 2010, and others before that.  Is it just about more money and resources for the NHS – or are we missing something in how and where we tackle the problems?

Norman Lamb chaired the session, having been a Lib Dem MP and health minister as well as the current chair of a health trust.  Joining him was Wendy Taylor who was a clinical oncologist as well as a current councillor in Newcastle with a particular interest in public health. Joining them we had two guests who are currently writing a book on the subject, which they have loosely titled ‘The Elephant in the Room’.  Roy Lilley and Ed Smith both have business backgrounds but have led and worked extensively with health trusts and both public and private health bodies.  Whilst being strong supporters of the NHS, they see the impossibility of dealing with the ever-escalating demands of an unhealthy population.  

Marmot came up with the phrase ‘the freedom to live a good life’, which seems a good liberal way to summarise what we are aiming for.  The problems he identified included poor housing, poverty and inequality, decent jobs, education, diet and exercise, all of which the panel agreed with.  

There was strong agreement that most of this primarily needs to be tackled locally, engaging with local communities to tackle local needs.  There is an important role for public health – savagely cut under the Conservatives – working alongside local government, business and voluntary organisations, which in turn means more collaborative leadership.  It has already been shown to work, with successful programmes in different parts of the country. 

For central government, this will need much more power and resources to be put back into local government, with the introduction of local taxes as an option.  The group also challenged head on the idea of the ‘nanny state’.  Surveys show that the public is highly supportive of legislation in areas such as food standards, just as they have been for seat belts, reduced sugar in drinks and smoking bans.

Altogether, this is a critical area if we are to tackle both ill health and a struggling NHS, with economic implications – an unhealthy society does not make for a healthy economy.  For LibDems, there is scope for a new narrative that takes on this challenge. Could this be part of an ‘Age of Renewal’ as the panel suggested?   

This is the fifth in the Green Book Pod series – you can download it on all the main podcast channels (search for Lib Dem Podcast), or watch it online on YouTube here.

For more on the Green Book initiative, visit our new website here where you catch up with all our previous episodes. We believe the current times are calling out for fresh ideas and new hope, and that innovative, radical and robust solutions are possible. Our podcast series brings external experts together in debate with Lib Dem party insiders to explore the major challenges facing the country in the run up to the general election.


* Robin Stafford is a member of Waverley Liberal Democrats and advises the party on economics and business.

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  • Steve Trevethan 22nd Apr '24 - 7:52pm

    Thank you for your article!

    Might a significant factor in this problem be our recent and current, neo-liberal/austerity managed, anti relational-well-being, state education set up?

    “Do schools and universities currently push students into habits and expectations of depersonalised learning, alienation from nature and deep relationships, obedience to hierarchy, fear of authority, self-objectification and chilling, non-cooperative competitiveness? Are these imposed character traits needed for and by current socio-economic theories, structures and propagandas, which obstruct and oppose connections with nature, deep long term human connections and other real human needs?” (From Arthur Evans)

    Relational Well-Being: “Valuing the importance of human connection while creating, engaging and maintaining meaningful and authentic relationships with self, individuals, groups, communities and our world” (From Vital Work-Life: Relational Well-Being Definition)

  • Robin Stafford 23rd Apr '24 - 4:25pm

    For those interested in health and the NHS, Roy Lilley’s blog is worth a look. A strong supporter of the NHS thought not uncritical.

    Both Roy Lilley and Ed Smith come with long experience of the business world so it is instructive that they do not fall into the trap so often heard, that the answer is to run the NHS ‘like a business’.

  • Peter Hirst 7th May '24 - 1:06pm

    Tackling the non health determinants of health is essential for solving our failing NHS. It should be done by a partnership arrangment between the individual and their local authority. Devolution is therfore a critical part of improving the nation’s health. Education must also play a large part and the exam system should recognise this by providing rewards for progress made.

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