Headlines: December 3rd, 1997

The strategies of all the organisations implementing the Government’s social policy must be closely integrated to achieve success. Raising health standards is a key element of the policy and it follows that this can only be achieved by concerted action across a broad front. Partnership is the way forward. This was the message Frank Dobson, Secretary of State for Health, gave to the Healthy Plymouth conference.Mr Dobson explained how unemployment and poverty are health hazards: “Having a job is good for your health. Not having a job is bad for your health. And it’s not just marginal. A middle-aged man doubles his chances of dying in the next five years if he loses his job. If you have money you can afford to buy better food and warmer clothes for yourself and your family. You can afford to keep your house warmer”.

The Government is pursing an integrated approach to social policy with a range of initiatives. There is a drive to get people off benefit and into work. The proposed national minimum wage will increase the earnings of the poorly paid. Bad housing and homelessness are being tackled and there are plans to build new homes using the takings of the right-to-buy sales of council houses. The issues of traffic pollution and congestion are being addressed and consultation is in progress on the best way forward. Success in all these policy areas will contribute to a more healthy nation.

The health service is playing a key role in implementing social policy and raising health standards is crucial to success. This is recognised in the additional £1.5 b that will be put into the NHS next year. But the short term threat to the policy is that health standards in the current year may plummet because of cash shortages. The integrated approach and the partnership arrangements could be in jeopardy if hospital services cannot cope with the seasonal growth in the number of patients, and if as a consequence, waiting times for treatment lengthen substantially. There is a uniform chorus from across the health service that more funds must be provided to stem the flow of rising waiting lists.