Supporting a changing NHS - meet the Minister for public health
Steve Brine MP, Minister for Public Health and Primary Care, explains his ambitions to help people live healthier lifestyles, and how his department is supporting the NHS through changing demands.
This article was originally published in June 2017, when Steve Brine MP was Minister for Public Health and Primary Care. He resigned from the position in March 2019.
What do you see as the biggest challenges in public health?
It is no secret that we are consuming far too much sugar and calories and are not making enough time for exercise— resulting in issues like obesity, diabetes and heart and circulatory disease. We also know that drinking alcohol increases the risk of developing a range of cancers. These have a huge burden not only on families but also our NHS.
We are absolutely committed to helping people live healthier and happier lives, but it will take time to fix problems which have been decades in the making
So these changing lifestyles give us very different health challenges from what we’ve seen in the past.
We are absolutely committed to helping people live healthier and happier lives, but it will take time to fix problems which have been decades in the making. We are taxing sugary drinks, funding research and cutting sugar and calories in food before it hits shelves and plates.
We are backing this work with the world's first Diabetes Prevention Programme – which provides a face-to-face tailored programme to support people who are at high risk of developing Type 2 diabetes - and major campaigns like One You – the first nationwide campaign [in England] to reduce preventable disease in adults, by encouraging them to take control of their health.
There are 7 million people living with cardiovascular disease across the UK. Do you have a personal connection to the cause?
Like so many others, I have personally seen the terrible impact that heart and circulatory conditions can have on the health of loved ones. Sickness like this causes so much grief and anguish, and the fact that so many public health issues are entirely preventable compounds this. But it is also what drives me forward, knowing that we can do more to help people avoid issues like this in the first place.
In my time as public health minister, helping people to live longer and healthier lives will be my key focus.
There are a rising number of people living with long term conditions, particularly heart and circulatory disease, diabetes and dementia. What are the challenges this brings for the NHS and how can they be addressed?
As more people develop long-term health problems we are forced to spend more on treatment. Obesity, smoking and drinking collectively cost the NHS and the British taxpayer £11 billion every single year. So investing in prevention and public health, underpinned by research, not only saves lives but also makes economic sense. The Government is investing billions, running national public awareness campaigns and working closely with local authorities to support the needs of their people in the most efficient way.
The NHS provides a face-to-face tailored programme to support people who are at high risk of developing Type 2 diabetes. We’re also working closely with industry to tackle the root causes – such as encouraging companies to significantly reduce the amount of sugar in fizzy drinks.
Quitting smoking is the single best thing you can do for your heart health. What are you doing to support people to quit?
We’ve set ambitious plans to cut the numbers of smokers, from 15.5 per cent of adults to 12 per cent or less, as well as cutting the number of 15-year-olds and pregnant women who smoke. To do this we’ve given local authorities money to provide services for smokers, and national initiatives such as Stoptober do an excellent job raising awareness and offering practical support to millions of people.
Our new plan focuses on local, tailored action, backed by research, to reach the groups that are still smoking
But the focus of our new tobacco control plan is not on what government can do. Government has already created a strong environment for quitting with smoke free legislation, standardised packaging and banning smoking in cars with children. And it is important to note that these changes have seen smoking rates drop to their lowest ever levels.
That is why our new plan focuses on local, tailored action, backed by research, to reach the groups that are still smoking. This really is the last step to achieving the first ever smoke free generation.
Our research has shown that air pollution can increase your risk of heart attack and stroke. What are you doing to improve air quality and help those who are most at risk of exposure to pollution?
Poor air quality is the greatest environmental risk to public health in the UK. As I told the G7 [the group of the world’s seven most advanced economies] recently, we have pledged that this will be the first generation to leave the environment in a better state than we inherited it.
We have asked Public Health England to look at how we can improve air quality, and the Government is investing more money to improve air quality and reduce harmful emissions. This includes asking individual towns and cities to put their own plans in place and helping bus companies and local authorities to put new low carbon buses on the road.
What difference will people see in two years’ time as a result of NHS transformation?
The NHS has set out plans to move from a sickness service to a wellness and prevention service, helping people live healthier and longer lives. Transformation means the NHS using its resources more effectively, so people receive the care they need in the right place and at the right time. For some conditions, this means moving services into the community, using new technology or ways of working to support people in the most effective and efficient way possible.
The NHS has been developing plans to set out how it is going to do this – we’ve given the most developed ones extra funding, with more to come.
How do you think that Brexit will affect public health and the NHS?
Transformation means the NHS using its resources more effectively, so people receive the care they need in the right place and at the right time.
Every day I’m proud that we offer free healthcare at the point of service – and that care will continue after Brexit. We’re working to ensure we get the best outcome for the health and social care system. Over 60,000 EU citizens work in the NHS, and around 90,000 in social care. The future of these EU nationals remains a top priority for us and we want their valued contribution to the NHS to continue.
We have also made it clear that after the UK’s exit from the EU our immigration policy will mean the NHS and social care system are able to get the number of people they need, from not just the EU, but from all over the world.
What lasting difference do you hope to make during your time as Minister for Public Health and Primary Care?
We’ve set out really ambitious plans to encourage young people to live healthier lives and I will be pushing these through as a Minster at the Department of Health.
I want us to reverse the current trends and see a move towards more healthy behaviours
Our bold ambitions include the most far-reaching childhood obesity plan anywhere in the world, which aims to significantly reduce England’s rate of childhood obesity within the next ten years, and the first smoke free generation. This is truly world-leading public health work that we can all be proud of.
We are also encouraging the food industry to make healthier products, providing advice to parents, and working with local councils to tackle obesity in their areas. I want us to reverse the current trends and see a move towards more healthy behaviours.
Being a Minister is not about me – it’s about what I am able to do. I hope people will see that I care and am personally committed to making a positive contribution.
CV - Steve Brine MP
2010 - Elected MP for Winchester and Chandler’s Ford (previously worked as a radio journalist and in consultancy, marketing and publishing)
2013-14 - Parliamentary Private Secretary to the Minister of State at Department for Work and Pensions, then Home Office
2015 - Parliamentary Private Secretary to the Health Secretary
2016 - Assistant Government Whip
June 2017 - Appointed Minister for Public Health and Primary Care, covering health protection and improvement, international health policy, cancer and long-term conditions
25 March 2019 - Resigns from the position of Minister for Public Health and Primary Care, over the Brexit process