Today’s NHS Long Term Plan rightly focuses on prevention, not least to introduce ways of making healthy living and exercise integral to patient lives. But surely these lessons should start within the education system? Teaching pupils the basics of health economics and nutrition, how to cook, the value (or not) of each food group and the implications of those foods to a healthy body and mind would, together with informed parenting, be a good start. The catastrophic erosion of cooking lessons and sports facilities attached to State schools has had, arguably, the most devastating effect on the long term physical and mental health of children and young people. Government guidelines state that each pupil between 5 and 15 should engage in at least 60 minutes of physical activity a day, of which 30 should be in school. Reading the woefully short PE Education programmes for key stages 1 and 2, 3 and 4, I find no statutory requirement for time spent on this physical activity within schools.
If prevention is truly a Government priority, it will look to invest responsibly in our education system, sports facilities, nutrition lessons and school meals; only then will the NHS be relieved of dealing with so many preventable conditions. If people are taught from a very young age to understand what they are putting into their bodies and why they need to keep themselves fit, they can take informed choices around living well for the rest of their lives.
The NHS is an incredible institution; it successfully treats millions of patients a year and does a fantastic job, often against the odds. Money will help, but averting avoidable conditions before they take hold seems to be a no-brainer. Connecting the dots of education and health is long overdue.