This site is intended for health professionals only

How effective are health prevention programmes?

Can we afford to invest in health prevention and promotion when budgets are squeezed? Can we afford not to?

The white paper, Healthy Lives, Healthy People, outlines the government's plans to deliver healthcare over the coming years and is the vision for health and wellbeing of the general population.

There are many public health campaigns delivered every year, each with their own important health messages. Alongside the targeted approach are the ongoing programmes of health prevention: smoking cessation, chlamydia screening for 15-24 year olds, cervical and breast screening, and bowel cancer screening. Many of these programmes have been running for several years but behind the scenes there are health promotion departments fulfilling a host of roles, from supplying posters/flyers/patient leaflets to training professionals and delivering sessions direct to the public.

There have been additions to the traditional screening type prevention packages with the introduction of specific streams focusing on teenage pregnancy, obesity, dementia, substance misuse and mental health awareness.

There have been several developments over the last few years with the creation of healthy lifestyle teams/health trainers as well as engaging GPs in the preventive agenda. Will all of these initiatives continue in all areas of the country? Or will it be down to local commissioners/commissioning groups to decide what the priorities are for the communities they serve? If this happens, will this mean a postcode lottery or will it be money well spent based on health needs assessments?

There have been differences around the country as to where prevention/health promotion services sit: health or local authority. The aim of this government is for many services to transfer to the local authorities but they, too, are undergoing major restructure and reorganisation as they need to meet similar cost savings as ourselves within health. Without some sustained prevention and promotion services will we find that our teenage conception rates start to rise, obesity worsens and substance misuse increases?

Prevention and health promotion have to stay high on the agenda but the way we get our messages across may have to change. All these potential changes due to policy directives could be just what we need - an opportunity to look at what we are doing, how we are doing it and if it is making a difference.

Technology is well and truly with us to stay, so can we use this to our advantage to share health messages widely? There is a word of caution with all of this however; how can we direct the public to reliable and up-to-date information? The NHS is already doing this with its NHS Choices website and Patient UK for leaflets and information for our patients to access and use. We have to hope sites like these will continue to be a nationally resourced service, otherwise there will be hundreds of .nhs websites set up around the country all carrying similar information.

How will you ensure the public and patients have access to the right information at the right time and in the right format? Can this be sustained?