Is this how to keep the health service running?

Image copyright Nick Smith MP
Image caption The future of public health? Nick Smith MP and Parc Bryn Bach Running Club:

The NHS is 70 on July 5. The celebrations have already begun.

Blaenau Gwent Labour MP Nick Smith led a Westminster Hall debate on the anniversary on Wednesday. The tone was celebratory and despite arguments over funding levels less tribal than some exchanges in the main Commons chamber.

There was the inevitable praise for Aneurin Bevan but also an understanding that what worked for the 20th Century may not be enough for the 21st.

Mr Smith said: "On July 5 it will not be good enough just to celebrate the past, the history of this brilliant institution and its architect; we must also look to its future and the challenges it now faces."

When the NHS was born, the life expectancy for men was 66 and for women 71.

Nick Smith's speech celebrated the longer lives enjoyed today but acknowledged the problems caused by today's more common diseases and obesity. "Back in Blaenau ​Gwent, surveys estimate that 70% of adults are overweight or obese and 11% are being treated for diabetes," he said.

"Most troublingly, the latest figures from the child measurement programme reveal that last year 15% of four and five-year-olds in my constituency were classed as obese. We should all be worried by that trend, which is being replicated across our country."

His proposed solutions included a ban on "junk food" advertising on TV before 9pm (that would presumably have to work online too for the Facebook and YouTube generation).


But his key point was an initiative he thought would "help our society get on track to healthier lifestyles" by "harnessing community support to deliver improved health for all".

He and a number of other MPs hailed the impact of parkrun, a series of free five kilometre runs held on Saturday mornings across the UK and beyond. There are 27 parkruns and 11 junior (2K) parkruns. More than 30,000 people took part in parkruns in Wales last year.

Parkruns on June 9 will be celebrating the NHS (full disclosure: I'm a regular parkrunner). Mr Smith reported lower blood pressure and a smaller waist as a result of his parkrun efforts (running the London Marathon might have helped too)

But parkrun isn't the only running-related health improver. Mr Smith praised the "brilliant" NHS Couch to 5K scheme which is designed to take people, with a smartphone app and human encouragement, from a sedentary lifestyle to a 5k run or walk. There's more from Run Wales here.

"Just a few Mondays ago," said Mr Smith, "it had 150 people running through a wet, windy April evening to get their fitness up. Over three months, many of those local people will gain confidence and a level of fitness to help them change their lifestyle. The camaraderie and support on offer is fantastic, and that is what makes these schemes fun to join and easy to keep up."

In reply, Health Minister Steve Brine said the challenges the NHS faces "are radically different from those it faced in 1948". He said the government(s?), the NHS and ordinary people were all part of the solution to those challenges. And parkruns were "incredibly important".

You can read the exchanges here.

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