Prevention is better than cure

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This week’s blog is contributed by Léa Renoux, policy officer, at Age UK 

Today sees the launch of a new report on prevention and health promotion by The Richmond Group of Charities, a coalition of ten UK health charities including Age UK.

The report, What is preventing progress? was prompted by a seemingly common but worrying observation; that too many people are living with, and dying from, conditions that could have been prevented.

Nearly one in four deaths is potentially avoidable, which amounts to more than 100,000 deaths every year[i]. This is adding considerable pressure on an NHS which is already struggling to make ends meet – the rise in potentially preventable conditions is expected to increase NHS costs by £5 billion a year by 2018[ii].

For our group of charities, the answer is straightforward: prevention is better than cure.


In 2011, the UK Government signed up to the World Health Organisation (WHO)’s “25 by 25” goal to reduce deaths from the major preventable diseases by 25% by 2025. While some progress has been made, particularly in reducing the number of smokers, there is still a long way to go – delivering on the WHO goals in England will require that in ten years’ time there will be 2.6 million fewer adult smokers and 1.3 million more people becoming physically active.

Encouragingly, recent developments suggest that the need for concrete action on prevention is being increasingly recognised. A few weeks ago, NHS England, the independent statutory body which oversees the planning, budget and day-to-day operation of England’s NHS commissioning system, called for a ‘radical upgrade in prevention and public health’ and committed to tackling key risk behaviours through its Five Year Forward View.[iii]

Soon after, Public Health England, the Department of Health’s executive agency which provides expert advice and specialist services to help protect and improve health in England, set out its priorities to promote ‘uptake of evidence based interventions to prevent disease and improve population health’, including taking action on the key risk factors, obesity, smoking and harmful drinking, and reducing dementia risk.[iv]

These announcements offer a welcome momentum, which political leaders must seize to ensure that prevention and health promotion move beyond lip service to action.


Failing to take action to meet our “25 by 25” target will not only compromise our progress in enhancing healthy life expectancy, but it will also risk widening health inequalities and jeopardising the sustainability of our NHS, which would continue to spend billions of pounds on avoidable illness.

It’s well known that tackling common risk factors such as smoking, inactivity, unhealthy diet and alcohol would drastically reduce the number of people affected by heart disease, cancer, lung disease and diabetes. But there’s now strong evidence that it would also help to protect our brain and prevent or delay the onset of dementia.

Up to 30% of cases of Alzheimer’s disease are attributable to modifiable risk factors.[v] This was reflected in Public Health England’s announcement this week of plans to assess how our lifestyle is affecting our cognitive functions through NHS Health Checks.

What’s more, public health is also essential to support those who already live with long term conditions to take control of their circumstances and protect themselves from getting worse or developing additional conditions (so-called comorbidities).

For the Richmond Group, achieving a real upgrade to our nation’s public health requires that action is led from the very top – by the Prime Minister – and prioritised throughout government.

It cannot be the sole responsibility of the NHS. Local and national government, the NHS, public services, the private sector, charities and patients must all work together to put prevention first.

We have a rendez-vous in 2025. Let’s make sure that by then, we will have achieved a step-change in our nation’s health across all generations.

Read the full report ‘What is preventing progress’ 

[i] Office for National Statistics, Avoidable Mortality in England and Wales 2011, May 2013

[ii] House of Commons Health Committee, Managing the care of people with long term conditions, Second Report of Session 2014-15, 3 July 2014

[iii] NHS England, Five Year Forward View, October 2014

[iv] Public Health England, From evidence into action: opportunities to protect and improve the nation’s health, October 2014

[v] Brayne Carol et al, ‘Potential for primary prevention of Alzheimer’s disease: an analysis of population-based data’, Lancet Neurol 2014; 13:788-94


Author: Age UK

Age UK is dedicated to helping everyone make the most of later life. In the UK we help more than 7 million older people each year by providing advice, combating loneliness and enabling independence. Locally, we work as part of a network of independent charities which includes Age UK, Age Cymru, Age NI and Age Scotland and over 150 local Age UK partners in England and Wales.

One thought on “Prevention is better than cure”

  1. Thank you for highlighting this important area Lea. Sadly the difficulty is that in this economic climate, getting the funds allocated to the prevention of dementia is challenging. In South Devon we are working on a self-management approach to this issue which we hope will be cost-effective and we have had a very positive repsonse from the local Age UK branch to look towards working together on this. We have been lucky to receive some initial funding from the Health Foundation’s SHINE awards to start this and my blog at the commencement can be found here:

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