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Public Health and the role of business

Peter Mills , 23 Dec 2010

The health white paper ignores the potential role of business in supporting public health.

The seasonal slow down in work commitments coupled with the disruption caused by the snow has given me the opportunity to read the government’s white paper, “Healthy Lives, Healthy People”. Aside from the fact that it’s badly written and compiled, one thing that really struck me about the new proposals for a decentralized public health system is the lack of thought that has gone into how the UK’s business can contribute to the vision of a healthier population. Yes there are references to working in partnership with employers, but really nothing of substance…and believe me I scoured all 100 pages of the document!

With almost half of the total population in the UK in employment the potential to have a significant and sustainable impact upon individual’s lifestyles and behaviours in this setting would appear to most to be “low hanging fruit”. Indeed, in my opinion, the excellent work many employers have done over the last decade in enhancing the health and wellbeing of their employee base far exceeds anything the Department of Health has achieved during the same time frame. So why the lack of recognition? Why the inflammatory statements, such as “Businesses must take more responsibility for the impact of their practices on people’s health and wellbeing” and “…if voluntary commitments from business are not met….we will introduce change through regulation”?

The most worrying, albeit comical, statement from the white paper was, “Employers from all sectors should look to support the health and wellbeing of their staff….the NHS will lead the way on this”. Clearly no-one on the committee who wrote the paper (and it does very much feel like it was created by committee) has ever stood outside an NHS institution to see the cloud of cigarette smoke emanating from the morbidly obese staff loitering in the doorways.

The reality of the situation is that the last institution we would want to be leading a national health and wellbeing initiative is the NHS….they haven’t got the expertise or understanding of how to bring about lifestyle and behaviour change. They are the National Sickness Service, they treat disease. The solution? Well, how about drafting in the UK’s employers? After all they know how health issues impact their bottom line and also know how to bring about change. And in return employers could get a slice of the £14bn public health budget in the form of tax allowances…a veritable “win-win” situation.

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The English Disease

Peter Rimmer 18 Mar 2011

Is this another example of the English disease? The Welsh Assembly Government through the Corporate Health Standard and the Scottish Parliament with Healthy Working Lives have wisely seen the potential for employers to be engaged in improving public health. But there is no equivalent in England! As an assessor in north Wales I have seen both public and private sector organisations actively engage with the Corporate Health Standard. Strong leadership and an involved and committed workforce have delivered tangible benefits, and in many cases these extend beyond the factory gates into the local community. Lower absence rates and higher morale are just two of the immediate benefits. Employers and their employees have the potential to make a major contribution to improvements in health and wellbeing. Is England to be left in the shadows?

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