Half of GP appointments are for preventable ill health, BMA warns

Preventable ill health triggers up to half of GP appointments, according to a BMA report that warns under-investment in preventing illness could cancel out the impact of a planned £20bn-a-year NHS funding boost.

Cuts to public health services and a failure to tackle preventable illness could leave the NHS lurching from one crisis to the next even if its annual budget rises by £20bn by 2023/24 as planned, the BMA report warns.

The report - Prevention before cure - says that uptake of health services overall could be cut by as much as 40% with better investment in reducing rates of drinking alcohol and smoking, alongside efforts to improve physical inactivity and diet.

A total of 50% of all GP appointments, 64% of outpatient appointments and 70% of all inpatient bed days are caused by preventable ill health, the report says.

Health inequality

Improving public health and reduction of health inequalities should be a key part of local and national NHS planning, the BMA warned. It called for 'adequate funding' to prevent illness, follwing '£550m of cuts to public health funding since 2015/16'.

The union has also backed steps such as a minimum alcohol unit price, higher taxes on tobacco, plans to address 'diet-related ill health' and a system to include health planning in all government policy work.

BMA board of science chair Professor Dame Parveen Kumar, said: 'It is unacceptable that each year, so many people are dying needlessly from preventable illnesses and long-term conditions such as heart and respiratory diseases, stroke, and some cancers. Tragically, the failure to prioritise public health prevention continues to cost people their lives.

'The BMA is calling on the government to make the population’s health a priority by putting prevention at the forefront of their future planning, with the necessary investment in services to tackle smoking, alcohol consumption, physical inactivity and diet.

Public health

'People living in the most deprived areas are often unfairly subject to the health inequalities that lead to a higher prevalence of preventable illnesses; from greater incidences of obesity in young people to increased risk of mental health problems and suicide. We must reverse the cuts to public health services in these areas if we are to see any noticeable change.

'Investing in preventative health measures will be beneficial in the long run; both in the impact on our health and wellbeing and in ensuring the greater sustainability of the NHS. This requires a departure from the short-term thinking that has inhibited progression and a move towards a long-term plan that recognises the importance of prioritising prevention.'

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