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“2020health is an important and thoughtful contributor to the health debate”

Dr Sarah Wollaston MP, Chairman, Health Select Committee


The Guardian Julia Manning reviews this week's healthcare news

The 2020health thinktank chief executive reflects on the top stories of the last seven days – including new reports on obesity, a warning about NHS budgets and Jeremy Hunt's proposals on safety league tables

Is there such a thing as a quiet week in health? Much as politicians might want it to be all quiet on the Whitehall front, it has been impossible to avoid the noise of bed pans over the past seven days as GPs, obesity, assisted suicide, NHS finances, child neglect, clinical mistakes and patient safety have all been played out through the surround sound of media speakers.
2020health spends a lot of time not only thinking (what thinktanks do best) about solutions, but also the cultural and behavioural context in which problems arise. For instance, to ask for more compassionate nurses is pointless if we don't consider how compassion and care can be valued more widely in society.
The BBC kicked off the obesity debate ahead of the Public Health England and Scientific Advisory Committee on Nutrition (SACN) reports on sugar, with a narrow focus on content in food.
Our ongoing research into Obesity: Education or Regulation? is already showing ingredients to be one part of a very complex problem requiring action in multiple sectors at national, corporate, local, family and individual levels. Being told to reduce sugar consumption to 5% will make little difference to one's intake when it is possible to buy four bars of chocolate in a certain frozen food outlet for the price of one-and-a-half bars in most supermarkets; when both sweets and drinks can be marketed as "sports" items; when there are no planning regulations limiting fast food outlets around schools and obesogenic vending machines are to be found in many of our NHS hospitals.
The most shocking report this week (notwithstanding the Savile revelations) was from the Centre for Social Justice on vulnerable children, featured in the Evening Standard. Our hearts should break at the number of children being betrayed by a dysfunctional system that denies them mental health support, exposes them to sexual abuse and allows them to become victims of the fallout of parental substance abuse. The inadequacy of addiction services and uncoordinated health, social and voluntary sectors is laid bare. I know from 2020health's Fit4School research (to be published) that in any one secondary school, 85% of the children can arrive at the age of 11 with behavioural, mental, nutritional or emotional problems, which is why we are passionate about working to improve teenagers' wellbeing. The charity Kids Company has launched a new campaign in response to the CSJ report.
The Guardian revealed that NHS finance directors are worried about money, giving their take on the predicted funding shortfall, also covered by the BBC. GPs labelled the seven-day-working idea "Utopian" if it doesn't receive more cash; some people can't see a GP at all, as the Daily Mail claimed patients are being de-registered from GP practices due to difficulties in recruiting doctors. At the same time, GPs are required to "do more" on prevention, when, as the Telegraph highlighted, they are already swamped by the day job. It's not a happy time at the frontline.
Many of us are calling for an honest public debate on the pressures the NHS budget is facing so the public is informed and can be engaged in deciding what the NHS should be in the future: A comprehensive, do-it-all service requiring higher taxes? A streamlined, core service with personal payment required for non-essential care? A system in which an "asset-based" approach of peer support, volunteering and third sector involvement becomes the norm?
Final word goes to the value of real-time feedback. The emphasis is on quality and safety for all – this week witnessed a new drive by the health secretary, Jeremy Hunt, on safety league tables, scrutinised by Richard Vize for the Healthcare Professionals Network. Jeremy Bowen showed the way by tweeting about the poor care his father was receiving at Cardiff and Vale university hospital. In no time at all, Mr Bowen Sr was back home and CVUHB was investigating. Real-time is the way to go.