Without a seismic change in thinking, the National Health Service could become unaffordable, warns Dr Michael Dixon, Chairman of the College of Medicine.

“You can't keep piling pressure on the system and expect it to keep delivering,” he points out. “If it does collapse, good healthcare will only become available to the rich.”

“NHS collapse means good healthcare would only be available to the rich.”

Consequently, no one should downplay the challenge of creating a health system that is financially sustainable. “Costs are going up because we have a fast-ageing population,” says Dixon. “Plus we're seeing more long-term disease than ever before - such as diabetes, stress, obesity and cancer - the treatment of which requires more and more resources.”

 

How can you help our NHS?

 

This is why our whole society needs to make a fundamental mindset shift regarding healthcare, says Dixon. “Individuals and communities have to ask 'what can we do for the NHS?' as much as 'what can the NHS do for us?'  We must enable and motivate every person to become a resource by being more responsible for their own health. We need to achieve a health-creating society where cheap but healthy food is available and where we are all encouraged to engage in exercise and positive social relationships.”

"We should consider a social prescription: which addresses the needs, beliefs, hopes and health challenges of each individual."

Addressing economic inequalities and helping those alienated by society is key to this, insists Dixon. This can be achieved with 'social prescription', which addresses the needs, beliefs, hopes and health challenges of each individual. This may involve non-clinical interventions such as self-help groups, art clubs, volunteering and exercise classes which “reconnect people to their own health and welfare... and community.”

Changing the hospital-focussed nature of the health service also means more community collaboration and partnerships. “As a GP I need the help of my local authority, local businesses, retailers, farmers and schools,” says Dixon, who is also NHS England’s National Clinical Lead for Social Prescription. “We're dealing with problems that can't be solved by one agency alone. Yet there is hope in this area because social prescription collaborations are beginning to occur between the CCGs (Clinical Commissioning Groups) and local authorities, for instance.”

 

Patients can use tech in supported self-care

 

Online consultations are a cost-effective opportunity for the future, says Dixon, and an example of how technology can help to create a sustainable healthcare system. He also envisages patients monitoring their conditions more closely in the future with the help of their mobile phones.

Yet the push for sustainable healthcare can't simply be government-led, maintains Dixon - otherwise its aims could be misconstrued and ultimately devalued. “This whole movement is an organic one created mostly by frontline patients, doctors and clinicians,” he says. “It needs to remain organic and locally led with support at all levels in the health system.”