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Re-thinking how we value and protect our health

Dame Sally Davies’ new co-authored book, Whose Health Is It, Anyway? proposes a rethink of how we value our health, a redesign of the UK’s health system to include a National Care Service, and a novel funding mechanism for a ‘total health’ approach.


The COVID-19 pandemic has revealed the dependency of the global economy upon the health of its citizens and led many to reassess what they value most. With the effects of the pandemic likely to be felt for years to come, Dame Sally and her co-author, Dr Jonathan Pearson-Stuttard, argue for health to be recognized as a key driver of prosperity, happiness and social mobility for the twenty-first century.

The authors previously collaborated on then Chief Medical Officer Dame Sally’s 2018 Annual Report, which makes the case for repositioning health as one of the primary assets of the nation. Their new book goes further. They argue that re-evaluating the importance of health in society would involve changing the wider environment that shapes our health, with public and private sectors making it easier for everyone to be healthy.

Among the authors’ proposals is a National Care System to ensure dignity and universal care in older age. A National Health Index would quantify the health of the nation, and facilitate measurable progress towards a healthier, more prosperous future – and be to a new National Bank of Health what GDP is to the Bank of England.

Alongside taxation, at a higher level than currently, the healthcare system should also be funded by companies that either ‘play or pay’ – particularly those that profit from products and services that could contribute to ill health. Such companies could innovate to make their products healthier, or pay into a National Public Health Investment Fund.

The authors say that this fund should be treated like long-term asset management, with a 25-year horizon, which if well managed would deliver a recurring ‘dividend’ to everyone in the UK.

Dame Sally Davies in the Master’s Lodge. Photo: Paul Grover

Dame Sally says:

Taken together, these proposals constitute a new framework to reposition health as an asset for the United Kingdom. With a National Bank for Health, the National Health Index capturing our stock of health, and the new National Public Health Fund for Investment, we would truly be in a strong position to address the collective health challenges of the future.

Dr Pearson-Stuttard said: ‘The COVID-19 pandemic has shown how vulnerable our society, economy and day-to-day life is to our collective ill-health. Now is the time to realise the opportunity of good health for our individual and collective prosperity and happiness.’

‘Health is a collaborative endeavour, with the citizen, NHS, academia, life sciences, and the technology industry all playing a part alongside our voluntary and wider private sectors. But all this can only come to pass if we seize the moment and reimagine our healthcare future.’

Whose Health Is It, Anyway? is published by OUP on 19 November 2020.

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