A new long-term NHS plan was announced on Monday (7)

by LAUREN CODLING

BRITISH ASIANS have been urged to engage with free programmes to prevent diabetes
and cardiovascular diseases, as a new long-term NHS plan which promised to save up to 500,000 lives was announced on Monday (7).

The 10-year plan includes doubling the Diabetes Prevention Programme (DPP) by 2023-24, and new stroke, respiratory and cardiac services expected to benefit more than three million people.

NHS England said more than 200,000 people every year would have access to targeted
weight loss support and advice.

Around 30,000 will be helped by supplying genetic testing which will look for those who may have inherited high cholesterol, while a modernised cancer screening programme
would be offered to detect the disease earlier.

Prime minister Theresa May has said the commitment was possible due to “strong public finances” and from no longer “sending vast annual sums to Brussels” once the country leaves the EU in March.

“Crucially, we have done this with no increase to people’s taxes,” the prime minister said. “The NHS is the public’s priority and so I have made it my number one spending priority. This is an historic moment.”

Health secretary Matt Hancock said the plan marked an “important” moment for the lives
of patients and NHS staff across the country.

Prime Minister Theresa May speaks to the media as she launches the NHS Long Term Plan at Alder Hey Children’s Hospital in Liverpool on Monday (7)

As Eastern Eye went to press on Tuesday (8), an NHS source confirmed details on specific amounts of funding, such as the diabetes scheme, would “follow in due course”.

Professor Sir Nilesh Samani is the medical director at British Heart Foundation (BHF). He told Eastern Eye on Monday that while he welcomed the “ambitious” plan, “better engagement” was needed with Asian communities so schemes such as the DPP were successful.

“The plan relating to preventing disease is very important and would be beneficial to the Asian community, [but] it won’t be easy,” Samani said. “There needs to be better engagement.”

In December, NHS statistics found fewer than half of people over 40 eligible for free health checks had taken up the offer. The screenings are aimed at picking up illnesses, such as heart problems, early.

Samani has suggested more education and awareness could make a difference.

Professor Sir Nilesh Samani has urged Asian communities to engage with aspects of the NHS plan

“When people don’t feel well, they don’t realise there can be hidden risk factors that they can’t identify themselves which require a medical assessment,” he said. “People
should be encouraged to do that in every means we can by raising awareness within communities.”

Research shows that south Asians have a greater risks of cardiovascular disease and diabetes, both of which tend to manifest around 5-10 years earlier than among white Europeans. South Asians are also up to six times more likely to have diabetes than the white population.

Bearing the increased risks in mind, Samani has urged leaders within ethnic communities to support opportunities where individuals can access health care which could affect their long-term health.

Speaking to Eastern Eye on Tuesday (8), Dr Kailash Chand OBE said there is still not enough emphasis to target the Asian population and higher risk diseases they may develop, such as diabetes.

Dr Chand said: “Strategies for early diagnosis and treatment, including awareness generation, opportunistic screening, availability of low-cost drugs, and task shifting to health workers must be prioritised in the plan.”

Dr Kailash Chand OBE believes more should be done to target the increased risks of health problems, such as diabetes, within the Asian population

The plan, which was developed after ministers announced the budget will be increased by £20 billon a year by 2023, has not come without criticism. Some have argued the proposals are not realistic due to staff shortages within the service.

Dr Chand, who is the vice-president of the British Medical Association (BMA), voiced concerns of how realistic the plan would be depending on shortages and funding.

According to him, the NHS is operating short of almost 93,000 staff during 2017-2018, which meant that one in 12 of all posts were unfilled.

In November, further analysis by the King’s Fund, the Health Foundation and the Nuffield
Trust claimed the health service could be short of more than 350,000 staff if numbers continue to drop and they struggle to attract enough workers from overseas.

“The government’s total mismanagement of the NHS workforce has left huge numbers of posts unfilled and unacceptably puts patients at risk,” Dr Chand, who has worked as a GP since 1983, said.

“A series of poor decisions from unfair pay restraint, cuts and incompetence from ministers have created these enormous staffing shortages.”

Some have argued the proposals are not realistic due to staff shortages within the health service

Samani agreed that workforce planning was “critical” in making sure the plan could be delivered.

Although the government was working to increase the numbers of nurses and doctors in
training, he said that process would take time.

“Once we have anticipated the plan, [I don’t think it] will reap the benefits within a year or two,” he said. “We are talking a longer term plan, but workforce planning is a critical element of that…the plans in development will depend on a capable workforce.”

Shadow health secretary Jonathan Ashworth also questioned the plan, taking aim at the lack of staff available in the services.

“They have failed to recruit and train the staff desperately needed leaving our NHS struggling with chronic shortages of over 100,000 staff,” he said.

Ashworth also made calls for “a credible fully-funded plan for the future, not a wish list to help Theresa May get through the coming months”.

Dr Chand added although a renewed focus on prevention within the plan was welcome, the government needed to commit in combating obesity.

He noted the “significant” increase in obesity and urged the government to prioritise the problem.

“The government must go further than what is outlined in the long-term plan and commit to population-wide measures, such as a minimum unit price for alcohol, restricting sugar levels in food, and greater restrictions on junk food marketing, if we are to achieve necessary improvements to the health of the public,” Dr Chand said.

The long-term plan also includes measures to make mental health care more easily accessible, making digital health services a mainstream part of the NHS so patients can book appointments online, and aims to improve maternity safety so the number of stillbirths, maternal and neonatal deaths and serious brain injuries are halved by 2025.

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