Matt Hancock accused of aiming for a ‘nanny state’

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The Health and Social Care Secretary has been accused of ‘nannying’ over his plans to make people take control of their own health.

Matt Hancock announced plans to help people make healthier choices to reduce how many people become hospital patients in a speech today.

He said smokers should be given extra help to quit, people should be advised on eating healthily and be encouraged to exercise.

Mr Hancock also suggested employers should play a bigger role in keeping their workers healthy, and health workers should stage more ‘bedside interventions’.

But his plans have come under fire, with people criticising the ‘nanny state’ for telling them what to do and blaming people who struggle to afford healthy lifestyles.    

In a paper called ‘Prevention is better than cure’, the Department of Health and Social Care has set out plans for personalised healthcare plans.

There should be more intervention from the NHS, Mr Hancock said, targeting services at people who are most likely to need them, dubbed predictive prevention.

For example, smokers admitted to hospital could be automatically given help to quit then followed up with phone calls after they leave.

This is a model used in Ottawa, Canada, where it reportedly makes patients half as likely to return to hospital within a month, and almost twice as likely to still be alive in two years’ time. 

Mr Hancock said in a speech today: ‘I want to see bedside interventions in our hospitals so smokers who are patients are offered medication, behavioural support and follow-up checks when they go home.

‘And we need to fulfil our commitments to the obesity strategy, and set ambitious targets also on salt.’

But critics say the plans are going too far and have been tried before with no success.

Columnist and TalkRadio host, Julia Hartley-Brewer, said in an interview with the Health Secretary: ‘Everyone knows you’re not supposed to live on a kebab and cigarettes every day but clearly millions of people are doing it. 

‘Why do you think this health message will get through when those other health messages haven’t?’

Mr Hancock has also said employers should give their workers free fruit, loan them bicycles and offer counselling in an attempt to keep people healthy enough to work.

Yesterday on the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show, Ms Hartley-Brewer said: ‘I’m not entirely sure it’s my boss’s job to make sure I’m fit and healthy enough, either mentally or physically, to go to work.

‘It’s about personal responsibility. If you want to be healthy, be healthy. If you’re not healthy and you can’t work then tough.’

People on Twitter have also had digs at Mr Hancock’s strategy.

Matt Kilcoyne said: ‘Cut down on the nanny state pronouncements, forced calorie counts, bans and taxes, and take responsibility for your department’.

A man called David Hardman added: ‘Taking responsibility for one’s health (or living with the consequences of poor health) when rich is fairly easy.

‘If you can’t afford luxury extras like gym membership, personal trainer, etc then it’s a bit more of a challenge. Live in the real world Mr Hancock.’ 

Mr Hancock said in his speech this morning the 6.6 per cent increase in A&E admissions over the last year was ‘unsustainable’.

He added: ‘Only with better prevention can our NHS be sustainable in the long term,’ and called for more interventions to give people assertive health advice. 

Siema Iqbal, a GP, tweeted: ‘Perhaps make junk food, cheap booze and cigs less affordable and available.

Perhaps make fruit and veg, access to gyms, health education and mental health services cheaper and more available?’

And Jim Gallagher said prevention is not as effective as experts might like it to be, tweeting: ‘Hancock was spouting about preventing health problems in the population.

‘I’ve heard all this nanny state crap before and it never works. You can’t make adults do something they don’t want to do. 

‘A good many poor people can’t afford healthy food just the cheapest.’   

Details of how the Government’s personalised healthcare plans will work have not yet been released.

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