Health secretary Matt Hancock is planning to breathe new life into the government’s approach to prevention of ill health, with a shift in focus to primary and community services.

The policy, ‘Prevention is better than cure’, builds on the government’s previous work in areas such as childhood obesity and social prescribing, and paves the way for a green paper in 2019, the government said.

According to Hancock, prevention will be at the heart of the NHS long-term plan, and will use new approaches like predictive prevention, which will explore how digital technology can be used to offer individuals precise and targeted health advice in the community.

His plans include increasing specialist mental health services to a further 30,000 women during and post pregnancy by 2020 to 2021, halving childhood obesity, diagnosing 75% of cancers at stages 1 and 2 by 2028, and offering whole-genome sequencing to all seriously ill children and those with cancer by 2019.

“Two of the biggest health successes of the 20th century had prevention at their core: vaccination and cutting smoking. In the UK, both were achieved by careful and considered government intervention,” he said.

“In the UK, we are spending £97 billion of public money on treating disease and only £8 billion preventing it across the UK. You don’t have to be an economist to see those numbers don’t stack up.”

“Investing in prevention is the smartest thing we can do,” added Duncan Selbie, chief executive of Public Health England.

“We need to move from a system that detects and treats illnesses to one that also predicts and prevents poor health through promoting health in all policies and puts people back in charge of their own health.”

The Secretary of State's announcement “presents a sensible way forward,” commented professor Helen Stokes-Lampard, Chair of the Royal College of GPs (RCGP).

"A stronger focus on primary and community healthcare is the obvious solution and our GP teams are already doing great work in keeping patients well, in their local communities, thereby easing the pressures on other parts of the NHS.

But she also stressed that it is "not only hospitals that are feeling the strain and we urgently need greater investment in general practice - both extra funding and additional numbers of GPs and other healthcare professionals - before we can take on the responsibility of caring for and supporting even greater numbers of patients.”