Health of future generations ‘about more than what the NHS can do’, says boss

Chief executive Amanda Pritchard said the health service risked becoming ‘an expensive safety net’.

Chief executive Amanda Pritchard said society needed to ask itself ‘uncomfortable questions’
Chief executive Amanda Pritchard said society needed to ask itself ‘uncomfortable questions’ (Frank Augstein/PA)

The health service is “picking up the pieces” from people addicted to gambling with cryptocurrencies, the head of the NHS has warned, as she also pointed to a rise in people risking their health by tipping into diabetes.

Speaking at NHS ConfedExpo in Manchester on Wednesday, Amanda Pritchard urged society to “tackle problems at source” or risk the NHS becoming “an expensive safety net”.

She added that the health of future generations was rooted in “more than what the NHS can do”.

The NHS launched its 15th specialist centre for gambling addiction in March, which Ms Pritchard said was in response “to a real and growing social need”.

Up to 3,000 people a year are expected to be treated across the 15 clinics and can either self-enrol or be referred by GP teams.

“Betting shops were illegal when the NHS was founded in 1948 and the service is constantly adapting to real and growing social need – including the increasing popularity of cryptocurrencies which I heard about when visiting one of our 15 gambling harm clinics earlier this year,” she said.

“The addictive habit sees people investing their own money in something with no fixed value, with the NHS left to pick up the pieces – this growing problem could create further demand for the health service.”

Ms Pritchard said the health service was already attempting to bolster the health of future generations by measures such as placing mental health teams in schools and setting up a task force exploring the provision of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) services.

But she added: “Their health – our health – is about more than what the NHS can do.

“It’s about everything, from our upbringing, our education, our environment, our work, our support networks. So we must ask ourselves uncomfortable questions.”

Ms Pritchard warned that the number of people under 40 at risk of developing type 2 diabetes, a condition she described as being “driven by junk food and obesity”, rose by a quarter last year.

The latest National Diabetes Audit found 3.6 million patients registered with a GP were found to have pre-diabetes – when blood sugar is above normal range, but not high enough to be diagnosed with the condition – in 2023.

This is an increase of 549,000, or 18%, on the previous 12 months.

The figure increased by almost a quarter in those under the age of 40, from 173,166 in 2022 to 216,440 last year.

In her speech, Ms Pritchard said: “Last year, I announced the NHS would open 10 new specialist clinics to support severely obese children, taking the total to 30 across the country.

“One part of a growing raft of NHS initiatives to tackle obesity, which now also include working on how we can integrate new weight-loss drugs.

“Yes, the NHS can help, will help. But we can’t solve this alone.

“So as a society, we need to ask, are we fine, for example, with the fact it’s far easier and cheaper for those children to buy calorie and fat-laden food on their way home from school than it is to find healthy snacks, particularly in the most deprived areas.”

She added: “These questions and more speak to the kind of society we want, that we want for our children and by extension to what we want the NHS to do with finite resources.

“Nettles we must grasp. Will we tackle problems at source? Or do we accept the NHS becomes an expensive safety net?

“That kind of service is what the NHS was born as but it shouldn’t be our ambition now.”

Dr Clare Hambling, national clinical director of diabetes and obesity at NHS England, described type 2 diabetes in under-40s as a global problem, adding: “England is no exception.”

In August, the health service launched its T2Day: Type 2 Diabetes In The Young initiative.

Dr Hambling said: “The initiative helps to ensure that people living with early onset type 2 diabetes receive all recommended diabetes health checks, tailored support according to their individual needs, and evidence-based management to stay well and avoid complications.”