Joan Walmsley writes…Planning for a healthy future

Hooray for Sir Simon Stevens, Head of NHS England, for putting into practice what I was proposing at last year’s Party Conference! In my keynote speech I maintained that the NHS cannot tackle the country’s current and future health problems by itself and we need a “whole government” approach. The Department of Health must be supported by policies from the Department of Communities and Local Government, the Department of Education, the Department of Transport, The Department of Culture, Media and Sport and, of course, local authorities, since it will not be able to tackle the increasing demand for healthcare by itself. Prevention of avoidable illnesses should be the responsibility of every Government department.

Yesterday, at The Kings Fund, Sir Simon announced a new initiative, which is a real step in the right direction. The NHS will be supporting the developers of ten new communities, comprising a total of 76,000 homes, to design new homes and neighbourhoods that will encourage walking and cycling, active play for children, technology to enable older people to remain in their homes and still get access to healthcare and other services and even “dementia friendly streets”. Fast food outlets will be banned around schools! It is hoped that this visionary approach will be popular with home buyers and renters and so will encourage sales and will act as a model for further developments later. So it’s a win/win situation – winning for the developers, the residents, the NHS, the local authority and the whole community.

Across the board we can be pushing for healthier living. As Lib Dems we have been united in leading a prevention is better than cures strategy. From Norman Lamb’s campaign to put mental health on equal footing with physical health to Caroline Pidgeon’s push for cleaner air in London, the Liberal Democrats are fighting for the health of the nation.

Now it’s time for a united front across departments. Now it’s time for the Department of Transport to tackle air pollution in our towns and cities by providing more clean public transport, it’s time for the Department of Education to make health education mandatory and high quality in all our schools, the Treasury to reverse subsidies for fuels that fill our air with particulates and noxes and to tax sugary drinks, etc, etc. I’m sure you can think of lots of good policies. All ideas gratefully received by your Health Team!

* Joan Walmsley is a Liberal Democrat member of the House of Lords

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  • I think the biggest gain to be had is by not putting homes, schools and workplaces on the busiest roads where air pollution is concentrated. In many places this may demand the building of bypasses.

    And I would add that improved health is the goal here. I don’t expect this to reduce the demand for healthcare or save money in the long run, because we all have to die of something, and it will probably be something expensive.

  • John Thomason 3rd Mar '16 - 10:38am

    It’s a very encouraging initiative. From my point of view, as a sports development professional, integrating active lifestyle opportunites into such communities is essential. Our successes in coalition – such as the provision of quality sport and physical activity in schools via the primary premium – support this approach.

    With regards to physical activity, the challenge is provision at the right level to attract participants and encourage healthy lifestyles. As we saw yesterday with a much publicised report into the physical risks of contact rugby union, sport can often be an off-putting experience for many, particularly when it is mandatory. Our task as liberals is to ensure that there is education, opportunity and encouragement to participate in physical lifestyles, whilst ensuring that the individual can take ownership of such activities. Happy to contribute ideas from a sport point of view.

  • nigel hunter 3rd Mar '16 - 10:46am

    This is good news. As a party full of youth (of all ages) We should ask members, supporters for their ideas, comments to campaign long term on. Could this be part of Tims new cities?

  • The NHS will be supporting the developers of ten new communities, comprising a total of 76,000 homes

    Nice sound-bite but practically totally worthless once put into the context of our existing population and it’s environ’s, and the building of circa 140,000 new homes every year…

    Also where is the evidence that people living in Milton Keynes are healthier than the rest of the population? Yes, Milton Keynes, it ticks the majority of the boxes given for these new developments, only it’s been around since the 1960’s, so we should have some real data on whether these ‘encouragements’ are sufficient, instead of waiting another 40~50 years…

    Fast food outlets will be banned around schools!
    Another meaningless sound-bite. What is the actual incidence of fast-food outlets being within say 400 metres of a school entrance? And I use “fast-food outlet” to mean ANY store selling hot/cold food intended for immediate consumption.

    So in my opinion this article totally misses what a “whole government approach” could be.

    Children, don’t really need “mandatory health education”, with it’s implication of being classromm based. No they actually need to get out and be active!

  • Picking up on John Thomason’s comment…

    In my area we are celebrating our first year of having a cycling club for the under-14’s, after some effort we’ve managed to get some community funding and purchased some bikes (of a quality not normally available in the high st. and certainly not at a parent friendly price) – yes not all kid’s have bikes, particularly if you aim to involve kids from deprived areas! We currently have 70 kids of which 40 regularly attend our evening sessions (getting 30+ out every week over the winter in the wind and rain…). Our biggest problems are: adult volunteers (who want to do coaching and help out), transport (yes if you want people to enjoy a sport and get a good taster you will need to take them to places such as a velodrome, competitions etc.), venues (for various reasons we are unable to use the public roads, which brings us into conflict with residents and councils who don’t want to spend money on maintaining their parks/open spaces and hence see our usage as an additional maintenance cost.) and last and not least funding (we’ve been surprised how much sports funding is targetted at 16+ and those responsible for community funding get cold feed when the work ‘sport’ is mentioned). Oh and we’ve got some really good feedback on the impact of giving kids a bike on their behaviour and schoolwork…

    So I suggest what is wanted isn’t more grandise topdown schemes, but more monies being available to encourage and support grassroot provision.

  • Jenny barnes 3rd Mar '16 - 4:20pm

    It would be great if the children could actually cycle safely to and from school. But i suppose thats too much to ask.

  • @Jenny – agree! 🙂
    It would mean my son wouldn’t have to spend an equivalent amount of time pedalling his bike on rollers in the kitchen, just to do the same amount of exercise as I did at his age.

  • nigel hunter 3rd Mar '16 - 9:27pm

    It might be pie in the sky at the moment but it can stimulate debate on how to improve things Cycle tracks could be included.Leeds is researching putting a cycle track on a large disused area. Rather than dismissing the NHS’s idea it could be useful to push it further, enqhire deeper.

  • Clive Peaple 4th Mar '16 - 9:09am

    The journey of a thousand miles begins with one short step….

  • John Thomason 8th Mar '16 - 2:40pm

    @Roland – interesting comments and I agree to an extent. Even with world class facilities you will not create anything without a pool of willing volunteers and the training to support them. There are perhaps four criteria – and you’ve hinted at them all – in making community sport succeed.

    LOCATION – is it in the right place?
    PEOPLE – is it targeted at the right people, is there demand?
    TIME – the time slot has to work for the audience; and
    PRICE – how much will it cost both the provider and the participant?

    It’s good to hear that your cycling project has been successful, but I appreciate your frustrations, especially the issue around funding being targeted at older age groups and rarely at under 14s. Sport needs to become a habit. Starting a new habit in the mid to late teens when young people have burdens such as exams – never mind peer pressure and other distractions – is always going to be an uphill struggle. It’s encouraging to see that the government’s new sport strategy recognises that young people need to be engaged in sport from primary age upwards, but this cannot be delivered without supporting those organisations operating at the coal face.

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