Less fudge more nudge, Mr Lansley

Dr Tony Massey, chief medical officer of wellness consultancy Vielife, says the Government’s health White Paper is inconsistent and informed by neither medical evidence nor industry experience


The government’s devolution of control over health is a potential recipe for disaster in attempting to solve the rising health crisis. It suggests greater responsibilities for employers in the provision of public health.

While many intermediaries and corporate financial advisers may be looking at the opportunity this creates for them, the lack of central guidance, education and cohesive provision of services to ensure better health may well leave their client’s expensive health investments delivering less ROI than expected.

Simply giving people their own control over health and letting them get on with it will not trigger a healthy society. Money will still be spent from many pots with less than hoped to show for it in terms of real societal health improvement.

The public health purse will remain under pressure while the critical issues that drain the human capital of the UK via reduced productivity and health are likely to remain. While employers and local communities can play a role in delivery, they need to be delivering in the same direction.

For every local or individual initiative there needs to be a central piece of strategy and backing to ensure a cohesive approach.

Organisations that have excelled at wellness and made real financial improvements as a result, are those that live and breathe a healthy culture throughout with no stone unturned. The UK population as a whole is no different, only bigger.

Rather than simply devolving responsibilities to its corporate citizens the government should look to learn from those organisations that have made health and wellness core to their business strategy.

For global businesses employers wellness is now a P&L issue, but they don’t devolve their core HR and occupational health teams to motivate employees, they do the very opposite and invest in them

There are now many cases of organisations that drive direct productivity improvements, cost savings and reduced absenteeism by building employee health into the way they operate. For the UK to replicate these achievements en masse and take pressure off public budgets the same approach is needed urgently.

We have been helping organisations like this guide, support and direct their staff through corporate health and wellness programmes for more than 10 years and has accrued much evidence along the way.

This shows that changing perceptions and mindsets in order to adopt healthy lifestyles requires a balance of central drive, direction and campaigning, alongside effective enablement and coaching of individuals to take control of their destiny, often through technology.

Sustained effort to achieve a singular direction of change in relation to health behaviour is a major factor that the white paper appears to be largely overlooking. Health may be unique to the individual and need to offer different things to different people, but it still must operate in a structural framework.

Reducing investment in some sports, for example, will make it harder for individuals to actually find the means to change when they want to.
For global businesses employers wellness is now a P&L issue, but they don’t devolve their core HR and occupational health teams to motivate employees, they do the very opposite and invest in them. The White Paper appears to have missed the point that making the UK fitter needs to be aimed at all levels, can’t be achieved on the cheap and has to be core to culture.

We only need to look at the worrying rise in health issues like Type 2 diabetes in children as evidence that tokenistic gestures and ’every man, woman and child for themselves’ is not going to work. People have got themselves into a situation of poor health because they have been influenced by advertising, marketing and convenience lifestyles.

We have a health deficit equal to if not greater than the financial ones gripping some nations and it needs to focus and engage all layers of society and align responsibility and accountability in all industries to tackle it effectively.

The government themselves tell us ’we are all in it together’. I want to see a health strategy that illustrates that and shows how those that run the country are going to work alongside employers, local communities and the man in the street to make better health a reality.