Greater public health engagement is necessary for the future of the NHS, but simply providing people with on-line information is not enough, a group of MPs has said.

Public health information programmes are needed at national and local levels, and these should incorporate social marketing techniques to ensure that the right messages are being delivered to the right people at the right times in their lives, according to the All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on Primary Care and Public Health.

Moreover, this should be made national legislation to ensure that new organisations understand the importance of health engagement, said the APPG members, launching a new report in Parliament yesterday.

The study reports on the Group’s recently-concluding inquiry into whether the NHS White Paper contains the framework needed to increase public and professional engagement in encouraging people to take more responsibility for their on health and that of their families. This, it says, will be essential if productivity and efficiency in the Service is to be improved.

The benefits of health engagement are widely acknowledged and linked to improved health outcomes, patient empowerment and long-term efficiency savings in the NHS, and there is “no doubt” that the government is committed to encouraging people to take greater interest in their health and responsibility for it, say the MPs.

However, simply providing health information, especially on-line, is not enough and will not reach everyone, so more needs to be done, they say, and suggest that a particularly significant way of encouraging engagement is through NHS health professionals.

“The public trust health professionals working in the NHS and these experts are pivotal in instilling people with the confidence to realise their full potential in looking after their own health,” said APPG co-chair Lord Hunt yesterday. “To further develop this, training for NHS staff could include elements of how to engage patients and encourage greater positive health behaviours which would result in a more fulfilling two-way consultation, empowered patients and lead to better health outcomes,” he added.

“We feel it is essential that all NHS interactions have at the heart of them an element of self care and self-management, whether this is during a GP consultation or a visit to A&E,” say the MPs, in their report.

Addressing the APPG inquiry last month, Health Minister Earl Howe acknowledged that “we are still some considerable way from true patient involvement in their own care and joint decision-making.”

He also agreed that there is probably not enough about engagement in the White Paper, as a stand-alone document, but went to point out that it is a “deliberately brief statement” of the government’s vision and that this has been filled out by subsequent documents which are now out for consultation.

Building the culture for greater engagement will be a mix of education, having the right systems in place and financial incentives in primary and secondary care, Earl Howe told the panel. “We also looking at ways in which patient engagement can be built into the Quality and Outcomes Framework (QOF) at least for the time being, to get GPs into the right habits,” he said.