If the National Health Health Service (NHS) is to be secured for future generations, as the Service’s new draft Constitution aims to do, schoolchildren should be receiving health education through the National Curriculum, according to a group of Members of Parliament (MPs).

“What better way to secure the NHS for future generations than to go straight to the generation of the future, with comprehensive health education that teaches children to take responsibility for their own health,” said Howard Stoate, Labour MP for Dartford and co-chairman of the All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on Primary Care and Public Health, speaking this week at the launch of the APPG’s Inquiry Report on GP Access and Health Improvement in Primary Care.

Health education in schools should include advising children how to stay healthy by eating properly, exercising, “laying off the cigarettes and alcohol” and coaching them about the use of the NHS, including when it is important to use services such as Accident & Emergency (A&E), their general practice and pharmacists and “when it is OK to self-care,” said Dr Stoate.

“This will all help to take the strain off the NHS, preserving it, sustaining and securing it for the next generation, and the next and the next,” he added.

The Inquiry, which began late last year, has heard evidence from a wide range of stakeholders, including government and NHS bodies, policy think-tanks and organisations representing doctors, nurses, pharmacists and patients, on ways to improve patent access to GPs and deliver health improvements in primary care.

The MPs say the process has led them to the strong conclusion that improving health outcomes for the public is not the sole responsibility of the GP practice but, rather, of the wider community, including pharmacists, health visitors and school nurses. They call for a wide range of local policy initiatives and public education programmes which make use of all health professionals, and for measures to improve food labelling and reduce the amounts of added fat and sugar in foods to be introduced both nationally and locally.

“We have been made aware of cuts in many areas that have led to a reduction in health visitors and school nurses, and recommend that these vital services are properly resourced since, in our opinion, these are the very areas that can be used to significantly drive real health improvements in the community,” they add.

Among the APPG report’s specific recommendations are that:
- government campaigns should be run nationally and locally to educate the public on self-care of minor ailments, highlight the services provided by pharmacists and have the pharmacist recognised as the first port of call in these instances;
- the General Medical Services (GMS) contract should be changed to recognise health improvements and prevention as “essential” rather than “additional” services, and appointment booking systems should allow patients to book ahead for routine care and check-ups;
- the quality of service commissioning by Primary Care Trusts (PCTs) should be improved significantly to meet patients’ needs and the PCTs’ understanding of those needs; and
- the Quality and Excellence (QOF) framework needs to be refined to reflect improvements in patient outcomes, the implementation of patient-reported outcome measures (PROMs) used to measure health outcomes in primary care, initially with a pilot study. Also, the current obstacles preventing Practice-Based Commissioning (PBC) from working optimally should be removed.

The MPs also stress that Professor Lord Darzi’s Review of the NHS must build on existing systems that are working within the NHS, rather than “once again” implementing “substantial reforms, abandoning effective systems and reinventing the wheel.” Moreover, only evidence-based policy should be included in the Review, they say.