My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Darzi, for introducing this important debate. My colleagues and I have been at the cutting edge of the integration agenda for 35 years now. We are today generating a national and international movement and infecting the NHS culture. This year we have welcomed leaders from 23 countries across the world to see our work. Today I am taking our experience to 10 cities and towns in the north of England, through the Well North programme, which I have been asked to lead by the CEO of Public Health England. I declare my interests.
If we are to have an NHS in 70 years’ time, we suggest the following steps, based on hard-won practical experience. First, we must return to the fundamental question raised by the Peckham experiment in 1948, “What is health?”. The NHS closed this project in 1952, saying that its services would now be delivered by the NHS. It was wrong. Some 50% of our patients today do not have a biomedical problem: they have a housing, education or employment problem, or they are lonely. I am finding similar numbers in communities in the north of England. The Bromley by Bow Centre is Peckham mark II, but this time with a business plan.
Secondly, we should stop building health centres. Today we offer a vast array of services to our local community and our 40,000 patients. They stretch from conventional healthcare for local residents to opportunities to set up your own business, from support with tackling credit card debts to help with learning to read and write and help up the career ladder. We should stop building health centres, but that is not to denigrate clinical health. On the contrary, we need to position clinical health within a broad range of services to drive well-being in communities.
The list in this debate question is far too limited. We need to create a locally blended offer, where doctors sit alongside others, including patients and local residents, to provide what people need. It is healthier for doctors. Our health centres are more like a John Lewis store, where the customer is welcomed in and a host of choices are laid before them. The people who run successful department stores know that a diverse product range makes complete sense for the customer and financial sense for the business. You can capture the customer and have an opportunity to offer myriad products and services. It is the same principle in integrated holistic centres, where health is about life and living, not just disease and illness. It is about sweating our community assets. This approach would create benefits and savings across a range of Whitehall departments, not just the Department of Health.
We are working with our partners to build two new town centres in Rotherham and Stocksbridge, just outside Sheffield. The retail sector is challenged at the moment by the internet, but there is a real opportunity to rethink what a town centre is and to put the heart back into it. We will require flexibility and imagination from the NHS and other government departments.
Thirdly, over the years we have developed many innovations that have quietly gone national. The latest is the social prescribing movement which we founded in Bromley. It is now in 20% of GP practices nationally and 80% in Tower Hamlets; there is a network of 2,000 social prescribers across the country. Social prescribing should be the norm in every practice, because it focuses on what matters to patients rather than what is the matter with them. It also ensures maximum engagement with patients in managing their own health. Let us unleash healthy communities.
Finally, there is too much focus on beds and hospitals rather than on early intervention. People believe that the NHS will solve their health problems; often it will not. We are breeding a massive dependency culture through an institution that I would suggest is far from well. Let us be honest. It is not lack of resources that is the problem, but what we have chosen to focus on. I fear more of the same. What happened to the five-year plan? It is time to be more radical. Let us drop the sentimentality about the NHS and return to the fundamental question: what is health in the modern world for our children, in a society that is increasingly atomising? I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Darzi. It is time for fundamental reform, based not on sentiment, theories or ideology but on practical innovation and experience on the ground—and it cannot be led simply by the vested interests of the medical profession.