DH sets out how ‘Responsibility Deal’ will be part of new approach to public health

A series of statements during the first half of July has seen Conservative Department for Health (DH) ministers pick up on their pre-election commitment to Responsibility Deals (voluntary agreements) as a means to tackle public health.  This follows statements from Defra’s Caroline Spellman MP in June launching the prospect of waste Responsibility Deals, and draws on thinking in the 2008 report ‘A light but effective touch’.

On 7 July 2010 in ‘A new approach to public health‘ Andrew Lansley MP, Secretary of State for Health:
“There is no lack of desire for people to be healthy, our job should be to provide the right information, to create the right environment, to incentivise healthy options and build social momentum behind behaviour change in the ways I have already described.

“Nudging individuals in the right direction.  Encouraging positive choices. Not lecturing or nannying. But making people feel empowered.

“Part of this is bringing government and business together to promote innovation in thinking and practice. So we will build on the ideas and expertise from our Public Health Commission, and the Coalition for Better Health, to create a new ‘responsibility deal’, built on social responsibility, not state regulation.

“And this is everyone’s business – there is a distinctive role for all of us to achieve the positive change we need.

“Change4Life is an example of this. I have been impressed how much it has achieved to date – I’ve talked to many of you about my support for it, particularly the way it has brought som many people together – healthcare professionals, teachers, charities, businesses, and the thousands of volunteers who have added their support.

“But, again, we need a new approach. We have to make Change4life less a government campaign, more a social movement. Less paid for by government, more backed by business. Less about costly advertising, more about supporting family and individual responses.

There has been a change of Government and there will now be a change of approach. We will be progressively scaling back the amount of taxpayers’ money spent on Change4Life and asking others, including the charities ,the commercial sector and local authorities, to fill the gap.

“While government pump-primed the brand, we will now withdraw the primer and engage others to share in making Change4Life really work – and we will focus on extending its reach and effectiveness, especially in social media.

“There is no point backing local strategies if the government is prescriptive.  Change4Life can be used by everybody to deliver their public health campaigns.

“To date, industry has made ‘in kind’ contributions. I will now be pressing them to provide actual funding behind the campaign. And they need to do more. If we are to reverse the trends in obesity, the commercial sector needs to change their business practices, including how they promote their brands and product reformulation.

“That is why I see our new approach as a partnership – access to the Change4life brand, alongside the Responsibility Deal; with an expectation of non-regulatory approaches.  We will work with partners in Change4life to give people better information in less prescriptive ways.

“I will also consider extending the Change4Life partnership to the drinks industry, who also have a major further role to play in promoting healthier lifestyles.  Change4life is not just about obesity and physical activity but other ways to be healthy.”

On 8 July 2010 Anne Milton in a speech to the Westminster Health Forum added:
“Legislation has its place and has a role to play in some instances, but we must focus on giving people the means to make the right decisions about their health. On tapping into the power of the group to influence the individual.

“We need to create a large space for health information to help people make good choices.

“Decisions about alcohol consumption must be informed in order to be meaningful. We want to improve alcohol labelling so that people can make decisions about alcohol armed with all the facts, and we are looking closely at the responses to the recent consultation.

“And it’s not to say that we don’t need regulation to ensure that alcohol is traded responsibly.

“The environment in which alcohol is sold and consumed must encourage better decision making, not risk taking.

Reviews on alcohol taxation and pricing will report in the autumn – and I know many of you from industry will be working with us on a Responsibility Deal.

“But it does mean we need to look again at how we can equip people with the right skills to make the right decisions at the right time. So that we can reduce the human cost of alcohol abuse, and the cost to the NHS, too.”

On 12 July 2010, responding to calls by senior doctors to reduce addiction to unhealthy food, a Department of Health spokesperson said:
“‘We need to create a new vision for public health where all of society works together to get healthy and live longer. This includes creating a new ‘responsibility deal’ with business, built on social responsibility, not state regulation.

“Later this year, we will publish a White Paper setting out exactly how we will achieve this.”

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