The NHS will benefit from far greater collaboration between countries across the world, according to England’s chief medical officer (CMO) Professor Dame Sally Davies.
In her final annual report published today, Professor Davies’ document unites health leaders globally and calls on governments to face modern health threats together.
The report also highlights the importance of primary care, describing it as the “most equitable, efficient and cost-effective way” to address most people’s health needs throughout their lives.
In her report, Professor Davies, who is due to leave her post soon to take up a new role as master of Trinity College Cambridge, outlines the UK’s leading role in global health and highlights the need to share international knowledge and experience.
If the UK focuses only on domestic health, it risked failing to control the shifting tide of global threats, she said, stressing that diseases and their determinants do not respect international borders with Ebola, antimicrobial resistance and widening health inequalities already presenting significant challenges.
Accompanied by a collection of 21 letters from key world health leaders to the CMO, Professor Davies’ report makes a series of recommendations to secure a prospering health system and population both at home and across the world.
She called for recognition that the world was changing, with health threats becoming increasingly similar internationally, so engaging with other countries could make the NHS more adaptable and sustainable.
The report says that pandemics, genomics and vaccinations are just some of the areas in which the UK could learn from the successes and mistakes of other nations.
In one of the report’s letters written by Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, director-general of the World Health Organisation (WHO), he argued that primary healthcare held the key to universal health coverage (UHC).
“The key to delivering UHC lies in reinvigorating and strengthening primary health care, through which 80% of people’s healthcare needs can be met in an equitable, efficient and cost-effective way,” he said.
“The origins of primary healthcare predate both WHO or the NHS, but until recently it has been the Cinderella of health services. It has been underfunded, particularly in low- and middle-income countries.
“This has to change, as primary healthcare – if adapted to 21st century challenges – holds the key to universal health coverage. It is the most equitable, efficient and cost-effective way to address the vast majority of people’s health needs throughout their lives.
“It is the frontline of the fight against disease, with its local presence and focus on health promotion and prevention (particularly immunisation). Countries can use primary healthcare to prevent, detect and treat noncommunicable diseases and to check outbreaks of infectious diseases. As well as saving lives, this is much cheaper than fighting a rear-guard action through hospital-based treatment and crisis management of epidemics.
“It is an inherently nimble model of healthcare that can respond quickly to changing epidemiological and demographic trends.”
Professor Davies, who is also UK chief medical adviser, said: “Investing in global health is the smart thing to do because it is in our mutual interest – it creates a better world for us and for future generations. It helps to keep our population safe.
“We should invest in systems and solutions that contribute to making health more equitable, secure and sustainable. What we learn abroad will improve our NHS and support our domestic efforts to make sure no one in the UK is left behind.”
*Annual Report of the Chief Medical Officer, 2019: Health, our global asset – partnering for progress. Department of Health & Social Care, 22 July 2019.