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