Headlines: March 4th, 2004

The government is to undertake a major consulation exercise on how to improve the nation’s health and wellbeing. Health Secretary John Reid has unveiled “Choosing Health?”, a document that sets out wide-ranging questions on how the country might tackle health problems like obesity, smoking and sexually transmitted infections.It will form the basis of a nationwide consultation over the next three months, designed to engage the whole population in debate. The National Health Service, local councils and public health organisations are expected to orgranise hundreds of events across the country. More than 50 of them will involve health ministers taking part.

The document asks what changes might be desirable from individuals, organisations and Government at both national and local level on a number of topics – restricting smoking, encouraging walking and cycling, access to fruit and vegetables, food labelling, advertising, preventing and treating sexual infections and employers providing healthy workplaces.

Mr. Reid stressed that the document was about asking questions to stimulate debate and that it was not setting out government policy. ‘I want everyone to make their voice heard because everyone’s future is at stake. We are setting up the biggest consultation exercise of its kind to ensure we hear from across the country, from people of all backgrounds, from industry, sport, the media and of course the NHS,” he said.

He added that NHS staff had made huge strides in transforming the NHS, which now had more doctors, more nurses, more beds and more hospitals. Real improvements had seen a 10 per cent drop in cancer death rates and a fall of more than 23 per cent in heart-related deaths since 1996. But there were still worrying problems in preventable conditions like obesity and sexually transmitted infections, which were issues for the whole country which was why a big debate was necessary.