Last updated:

Making the case for prevention

Running in the park

Why we should care about prevention?

Advances in diagnosis and treatment have transformed modern medicine and meant that as a society we are all living longer. This should be celebrated. Yet with it, the NHS needs to consider how to respond to these societal changes both now and in the future. Demographic change, widening health inequalities and increasingly complex long-term conditions are all contributing to the year-round pressures our members and patients are seeing across the NHS.

"...politicians at a national and local level must move beyond rhetoric and prioritise prevention to secure the long-term sustainability of the NHS."

In order to meet these changes and guarantee the long-term sustainability of the NHS it is vital that we prioritise and adequately fund prevention. The health and economic case for doing so is compelling:

  • Preventable ill-health accounts for an estimated: 50% of all GP appointments, 64% of outpatient appointments and 70% of all inpatient bed days.
  • 40% of the uptake of health services may be preventable through action on smoking, drinking alcohol, physical inactivity and poor diet.
  • Healthcare costs increase by 45% for each person with a comorbid mental health problem and long-term condition.

Our briefing, 'Prevention before cure: securing the long-term sustainability of the NHS' sets out in more detail the health and economic case.

Read the briefing


How do we prioritise prevention? What are our key policy calls?

The long-term sustainability of the NHS depends on an evidence-based and adequately resourced approach to prevention of physical and mental ill-health. This should be underpinned by key principles:

  1. Improving population health (both physical and mental health) and reducing health inequalities should be a central goal of future NHS planning.
  2. There must be adequate funding for ill-health prevention, both within and outside the NHS, to support improvements in population health.
  3. Comprehensive regulatory, legislative and educational measures should be introduced at a national level to tackle key lifestyle factors driving ill-health.

Specific targeted actions across all areas of population health are needed. Detailed information is available on our population health webpage. This includes information about: Alcohol, tobacco, diet and obesity and health inequalities


Are we prioritising prevention?

  • Feeling the squeeze: local impact of cuts to public health funding

    Doctors have expressed particular concern that recent budget changes will result in public health services that are inadequate for meeting the needs of the local populations which they serve.

    Our briefing explores whether recent changes to public health funding are reflective of local population health needs, and assesses the impact that public health funding cuts are having on the delivery of services locally.

    Read our briefing

  • Public health funding constraints

    Across the UK, commitments to prioritise ill-health prevention are not being matched by funding commitments.

    • Spending on various public health activities in Northern Ireland and Wales has declined, with relatively stable but low levels of funding in Scotland.
    • In England, significant cuts to local authority public health funding are reducing vital public health services and impacting on patient care.
    • Spending on prevention and public health (around 4-5% of total health spending) in the UK is significantly lower than spending on treatment.

    With the NHS at breaking point, we need to see funding for public health and prevention prioritised to reduce pressure on the health service and its staff.

    Read our briefing


  • Cost effectiveness of prevention and early intervention

    Public health interventions have consistently been proved to be cost-effective.

    However new efforts are needed to maximise the potential of early intervention and prevention activities.

    Read our briefing


  • Inconsistent use of evidence in developing policies

    Despite some successes - such as action to reduce smoking rates - evidence-based policies are not being consistently used to improve public health.

    Read our briefing