Twelve months ago, the Health Foundation set out to explore our contribution to enabling everyone in the UK to live a healthy life. Starting with an international seminar in Salzburg, the year unfolded into a series of thoughtful and stimulating discussions on some of the intractable problems that limit the ability that individuals and society have to maintain and improve wellbeing and health. It quickly became apparent that there was no limit in the scope for action; the challenge was going to be where to focus and where we could apply our expertise to have the most impact.

Our first step has been to build clarity on the approach we will take to bringing about better health for people in the UK and our publication: Healthy lives for people in the UK outlines the principles that will underpin our long-term strategy. Guided by these principles, here are some highlights from our plans for 2017.

First, we want to see a change in the conversation around health. Too much of the public discourse is dominated by ill-health – its impact on the individual, its costs to society and the action needed to mitigate it. While we will always need high-quality health care, this alone will not enable people to live healthy lives. There needs to be more explicit recognition of the factors that shape our long-term health outcomes and the breadth of action needed to maintain and improve health over the life course. Through a range of communication activities, we hope to raise awareness of the wider determinants of health – the factors that shape where we live, learn, work and play – and build an understanding of health as an asset.

With this in mind, this summer we will be issuing a call for research to explore how health is a contributor to economic and social development – as much part of our national infrastructure as transport, digital connection or housing. We know a lot about the economic costs of poor health but less about the economic and social value of good health. A better understanding of this evidence could help policy makers take a longer term, ‘investment’ perspective on building health by tackling wider determinants of health, rather than solely treating illness.

Investing in health is for the long term. Our experiences, behaviours and habits as children shape our long-term health outcomes. And as these experiences, behaviours and habits are shaped by our environment, creating the opportunity for good health needs to be viewed as a population rather than an individual task. This presents a significant challenge to building the evidence needed to support decision making. Established research methods that provide certainty on the effectiveness of individual-level action on short-term outcomes, such as the randomised controlled trial, cannot be applied as easily to upstream, population-level interventions that need to take into account complex systems. During the coming year, we will be developing approaches to meet this challenge.

The types of action that are most likely to impact on our long-term health: education and employment opportunities, housing and the built environment, families and communities, predominantly fall outside the influence of government health departments. In order to promote understanding of how wider government policy making can better influence health outcomes, we will be developing case studies of innovative areas of social policy from across the UK and internationally to inspire broader thinking and co-ordinated action from across government departments and the four UK nations.

We will also be exploring the potential to mobilise wider resources to influence the determinants of health, and support local action in doing so. The UK is rich in data which illustrates inequalities in health outcomes, such as life expectancy. Addressing the wider determinants of wellbeing and health requires widespread coordinated and sustained collaborative action across the public, business and voluntary sectors. We have been working with the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation in the US and learning from their programmes to build a culture of health. Over the next six months we will be scoping the value of developing a unit to act as a multi-sector integrator which would curate and amplify existing data, evidence and resources in order to support local action, creating a coalition for action on the wider determinants of health.

Finally, 2017 will see the start of a two-year inquiry to understand the future health prospects of young people. Much is understood about the importance of a nurturing environment during early years and the long-term harmful impact of adverse childhood events. However, less is understood about how factors in adolescence and during the transition to adulthood shape long-term health outcomes. We want to understand the extent to which young people, as they transition in adulthood (taken as aged 24), have the foundations for a healthy life. Specifically: the potential to engage in good-quality work; access to secure housing; a network of stable relationships and good self-esteem; and established habits that promote and maintain good health. Through research, engagement activities and deliberative conversations, we will seek to establish the current trajectories of young people over the life course and the action needed to ensure that the millennials and post-millennials are able to aspire to the long and healthy lives experienced by the baby-boomers. 


Gordon Cairns

I have looked through all your newsletter items and see nothing for the ordinary patient or Public to be part of . I have been involved with NHS England Specialised Commissioning Clinical reference Group on Specialised Urology for 3 years and helped on a Greater Manchester Combined CCG's and Specialised Commissioning External Clinical Assurance Group on urological Cancer Surgery as a patient rep . I have done London Interviews for New Models of Care team Members to help Vanguards and judged the ACC Vanguard Bids at the oval cricket ground . I do patient reviews of bids for NIHR and Patient review articles for the BMJ but I see nothing on hear for Patients to review . BMJ now has a policy that everything must include Patients views and so does NIHR . My two reviews for the BMJ I refused for not enough Patient content and they sent them back as refused . My one NIHR I have just heard has had the full bid passed and should make a great difference to patients with prostate Cancer which I have had and had cured . I still wonder what part of your business can patients with experience take part in

Andrew Rix

I can see that shifting the emphasis of the Foundations work towards the wider determinants of well-being makes sense and fits in with a philosophy of breaking down boundaries and seeing well-being as the aim of social policy. However, it is the case that, historically, THF has supported practical innovation in health care services and delivery in ways which other funders cannot. Patient safety and patient centred care are just two areas where THF can claim to have led the way in new thinking. THF have also been influential in supporting new and different research paradigms - the growing acceptance of qualitative evidence, including that derived from action research and case-study approaches, is in large measure the result of your vision. I do hope that THF isn't going to become yet another high-level policy think tank at the expense of the leadership it has shown in practical aspects of health service development. You are after all the HEALTH Foundation.

Christine Hancock

We at C3 Collaborating for Health have been pleased to be part of the Health Foundation's new work. The Foundation's current work has benefited patients and healthcare, especially hospital care. Many of those patients are the victims of the unhealthy environment in which we now live. Especially vulnerable are the poorest and least privileged. As well as caring compassionately and with skill for those patients, we must look to find ways to prevent the huge burden of chronic disease which are caused by our modern lifestyles

Jo Bibby

Hello Gordon, many thanks for your comments.

The Health Foundation supports improvement work and research in the NHS. There is a lot of active patient involvement in these projects. It would be difficult to list all these projects but I have included some links to some that may be of particular interest. I hope this gives you a clearer picture of how patients can become involved in the work we support.


Realising the Value:
Improving A&E for patients and families

We also are supporting an Improvement Science Fellow who is exploring the ways in which patients and their families can be involved in patient safety. You can read more about this here:

Jo Bibby

Hello Andrew,
Many thanks for your comment and the support for our developing agenda on the social determinants of health. Thanks also for the reflections on the contribution the Health Foundation has made in the areas of patient safety, person centred care and improvement science.
As you say we have always focused on supporting people who are working at the 'sharp end' of improving services for patients. While our approaches may need to be adapted to deliver our ambitions around the social determinants of health, we are equally committed to ensuring that our work in this area helps those that are improving lives for people across the UK.

Jo Bibby

Thank you Christine! and thanks also to you and colleagues at C3 for your contributions to our strategy development,


Lucy Gray

Thanks For Sharing such a great information about Healthier Lives .There are established habits that promote to maintain the good health.It will hep in improving health lives of all families.

Dr I.M.R.C. Iriyagolle

I wish to write to you as a very senior retired medical practitioner still working a few hours a week . I feel sad and so disappointed that the needs of some vulnerable members of this society are not addressed. I have identified like many others in my profession that an adequate needs assessment of the elderly and those with mental health problems have not been carried out. The esatblished services do not address the needs of these groups, it is tragic.
This state of affairs could be due to bad management and appointment of managers specially by the private providers who fail to recruit and appointment managers that have a professional approach to provide appropriate and adequate services to alleviate the suffering of these vulnerable members of this society. Empathy and sympathy two necesary attributes in these managers.
Please consider a suitable solution at your early convenience.

Jo Bibby

Thanks for your thoughts Dr Iriyagolle. The Health Foundation recognises the importance of empathy and compassion in the delivery of healthcare. We have been sharing stories of NHS and social care staff and patients through our project A Mile in My Shoes- you can hear them here

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