Political attitudes to prevention in the NHS

Political attitudes to prevention in the NHS

A new report from WA Health, Prevention over cure: political attitudes to prevention in the NHS Long Term Plan, informed by a cross-party YouGov poll of 100 parliamentarians, found that two thirds of MPs think the NHS should “direct more resources towards prevention, rather than increasing funding for new treatments.”

The report suggests that MPs are in full support of health secretary Matt Hancock’s vision of an NHS spending less on medicines and more on shifting the NHS’s attention to prevention.

The report describes a “changing of the health policy mood music” towards pharma and the development of a cross-party political consensus that prevention should now take priority over cure.

While doing more on prevention has long been an objective of NHS policymakers, politicians have often taken patients’ side in demanding greater access to new and innovative treatments. This poll data suggests that the argument may be shifting.

In the same poll, 43% of MPs stated they “would not be concerned” that patients would receive a poorer quality of treatment if the NHS shifts too much resource towards prevention, suggesting that MPs do not see a direct correlation between medicines spending and quality of treatment.

Pharma has been under-fire recently with several high-profile market-access challenges – e.g. Vertex’s Orkambi – and the political focus on prevention may serve to ramp-up the access threats for both new and existing therapies in years to come.

When asked to define the main priorities for prevention, MPs chose topics such as physical activity and diet rather than those where pharma traditionally plays a role.

For example, just over a quarter (27%) view predictive prevention such as genomics as a priority for realising the vision for prevention, despite the UK being a world-leader in genomic medical research.

More promisingly for industry, the majority of MPs (76%) believe that there is a legitimate role for pharma within the prevention debate.

The report notes that the NHS Long Term Plan is “just the beginning” of an attempted shift towards prevention, with a further Green Paper and action plans due out in the coming months.

WA Health Director Caroline Gordon said: “These findings make clear that prevention is now one of the biggest political factors driving the healthcare debate with parliamentarians.

“That the majority of MPs are happy to see funding for new treatments reduced in favour of the prevention agenda is likely to put further pressure on industry.

“The NHS is undergoing a significant shift towards prevention – pharma must change with it and showcase the crucial role it can play in health and wellbeing.”

Key results 

  • 64% of MPs believe the NHS should direct more resources towards prevention, rather than increasing funding for new treatments
  • 43% of MPs stated they would not be concerned that their constituents will receive a poorer quality of treatment if the NHS shifts too much resource towards prevention
  • 49% of MPs are confident that the NHS Long Term Plan will be successful in improving the prevention of ill health and disease
  • 27% of MPs view predictive prevention such as genomic testing as one of their top three priorities for the prevention agenda
  • 79 per cent of MPs think the pharmaceutical sector has a legitimate role in implementing the NHS’s prevention agenda.