Skip to main content

NHS: Public Information and Advice

Volume 737: debated on Tuesday 12 June 2012


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government whether they plan to review, after an appropriate interval, the comparative performances of public health information and advice campaigns under (1) the new, and (2) the former, NHS architectures; and, if so, when and whether the findings of that review will be made public.

My Lords, the department continuously reviews the performance of its public health information and advice campaigns. Our investment in campaigns reflects evidence of their effectiveness. Summaries of campaign research are published online as part of our freedom of information publication scheme. Publication typically occurs six months to a year after receipt of the final research report. As evaluation is ongoing, we have no plans to review the impact of campaigns against specific changes to NHS architecture.

I thank the Minister for that Answer. He will be aware that the country faces an epidemic of obesity, with predictions that nearly a half of all adults could be obese by 2030. He will also know that changing childhood eating habits is the key to addressing this problem. What long-term plans do the Government have for information and advice campaigns aimed at influencing childhood eating habits?

My Lords, my noble friend is absolutely correct to highlight the importance of preventing obesity, particularly obesity in the young. He will be reassured to know that the Change4Life Campaign, which we have continued from the previous Government, will include this as a major focus into the future.

My Lords, in light of the fact that the Minister talked about having a review, have the Government given any reconsideration to the need for a specific national prevention campaign designed to reduce the number of HIV infections? Does he accept that there is a necessity to reduce the increasing level of transmission, not only because it is spreading into non-high-risk groups but also because of the cost of treatment, which is extremely costly indeed? It seems to me that there is no question that the long-term savings would be substantial compared to the cost of a national campaign. Can the Minister also clarify the future of the two current targeted HIV campaigns?

My Lords, I share the noble Baroness’s concern. She has highlighted a major area on which Public Health England and local authorities will wish to focus going forward. This is the great advantage of the architecture that we have put in place, with health and well-being boards responsible for determining local needs and the way in which to address them. Public health awareness campaigns have their place but they are not the total answer. The noble Baroness has drawn attention to the importance of having sufficient treatment facilities, and access to them, available. So, with the support of Public Health England at a national level, local authorities should be addressing sexual health as one of their key areas.

My Lords, as the Minister has said, the situation is constantly being evaluated. Has he looked into the recent problems of patients who cannot see displayed the costs for National Health Service dentistry procedures? Would it not be a good idea to set up an online application so that patients can see the information for themselves, with a simple form to fill in that lets them know what they should be paying before they go? That would remove all the arguments about whether or not there is a notice in the waiting room.

My noble friend is right. Many dentists are good at conforming to the terms of their contract, which means making it clear to patients what it will cost them to have a particular course of NHS treatment. Other dentists, I am afraid to say, are less scrupulous. It is part of the contractual arrangement that dentists should be open on that score and it is an area to which we are currently devoting a good deal of attention.

My Lords, one of the most startling ways that deprivation is measured is by health inequalities. We are all aware that, under the Act, the responsibility for public health passes to local authorities. As I understand it, local authorities do not have a duty under the Act to prioritise the reduction of health inequalities. How will the Government use the non-legislative processes open to them to reduce inequalities, especially with regard to local authorities?

The answer to the right reverend Prelate, who makes a good point, is that clinical commissioning groups do have and will have a duty to bear down upon health inequalities and to ensure that they look after not only the patients on GP lists but the unregistered patients in their catchment areas as well. What we expect to see emerging from the joint health and well-being strategies coming out of the health and well-being boards is account being taken of those hard-to-reach groups in society who may not be on the immediate radar of GPs, but whose needs are nevertheless extremely acute and will have to be factored into commissioning plans.

My Lords, first, I declare my health interests which are set out in the register. Perhaps I may take the noble Earl back to the decision of his department to reduce the number of national campaigns in relation to public health. A survey by the Association of Directors of Public Health published at the weekend shows that, in the transfer to local authorities, there has been a loss both of capacity and of funding. Given that, how can he justify the emphasis on local campaigns at the expense of national focus programmes?

My Lords, there will be national focus programmes led primarily by Public Health England, but we see those as complementary to the work going on at the local level. By no means are we abandoning national campaigns. Indeed, we have seen considerable successes. In 2010-11 we invested almost £11 million to support 59 cancer awareness campaigns around the country. In 2011-12 we provided £8.5 million to support a range of cancer awareness campaigns, and this year we hope to spend even more on cancer awareness than we have in previous years.

My Lords, what is the reaction of the NHS to the explosive headlines appearing daily in newspapers about new cures, magic pills and other things of that nature? Surely these are being trialled for the NHS, which must be creating new demands every day as a result. Does the service have a plan to deal with this?

The key is to make available to the public accredited sources of information because there is an awful lot of unaccredited information available. Through mechanisms such as NHS Choices and NHS Evidence, people can now see online not only what best practice looks like, but what clinical trials are available for the latest drugs and treatments. My noble friend is right; we have to direct people to the right sources of information.