Medical Matters: The importance of prevention over next five years

wash hands

Public health begins with hand washing. - Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto

Medical Matters: Dr Joanne Watson, Health and Care Strategy Director for Torbay and South Devon NHS Foundation Trust (TSDFT), reflects on the last 12 months, Covid-19 and the vaccination programme, and the importance of prevention rather than cure when it comes to looking after our health: 

Last weekend, my sister-in-law sent round a message on the family WhatsApp group which read, “Can we all agree that in 2015 not a single person got the answer correct to where do you see yourself five years from now?” 

Working in health and care, this made me think that five years from 2015 got us to 2020 and this time last year we were between Covid-19 waves one and two.

The same question with a shorter timeframe, just a year, gets us to 2021. Did I expect to be in our current situation a year ago?

The hope then was to have an effective vaccine for Covid-19.

This has indeed come true and the vaccine programme has made an outstanding change to all our situations with over 80 per cent of our adult population in Torbay now having had both doses of a Covid vaccine.

Torbay Hospital main entrance

Torbay Hospital. - Credit: Submitted

Sadly, many of the people we are currently seeing people in Torbay hospital settings with Covid-19 have not been vaccinated.

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My heart is really heavy when, as their doctor, I am looking after these people.

Their situation didn’t have to be this way, prevention is always better than cure.

I really would encourage everyone who is eligible to get the vaccination to do so, especially our younger people. 

We now have greater freedoms because of the vaccine, but we all still have a part to play in living with Covid-19.

I am so pleased to see our local businesses continuing to support the wearing of masks, offering hand gel, and, where appropriate, checking for symptoms.

We must remember that the virus is still with us.

In all of our NHS settings, we are continuing to take precautions to be Covid safe/ secure and this will carry on for the foreseeable future.

Prevention - the action of stopping something from happening or arising - is so important to focus on.

It can have the biggest impact on our wellbeing and stop us from getting ill or developing health-related conditions, particularly later on in life.  

Vaccination programmes are part of our prevention approach and have been extremely successfully managing diseases which used to rampage around the world.

For example, diseases such as smallpox and polio have either been eradicated or almost eradicated. 

With success stories around vaccination programmes and understanding the importance of cleanliness - public health begins with hand washing - we are recognising the importance of prevention in healthcare approaches.

Just like the success of the Covid-19 vaccination programme where there has been a decrease in the risk of hospital admission by 75 per cent and death by 90 per cent, there are other areas of prevention that make a huge difference to health and wellbeing.

So, now I am thinking about the next five years and the importance of prevention.

We want to support the people of Torbay and South Devon to live well.

How we use our available resources to best effect is the question and how we can have the biggest positive impact on preventing conditions and diseases developing.  

This is why we are focusing on areas like smoking, alcohol consumption and exercise.

There is some great work already happening locally with our partners in Torbay Council, our district and town councils, our schools and colleges and our voluntary sector partners.

This gives us a great platform to build on but we recognise there is still much to do.  

We have dedicated teams who can support people to be healthier.

For example, our midwifery services have focused on supporting women to stop smoking during pregnancy and have decreased smoking by about 50 per cent.

This gives more babies a healthier start in life, improves maternal health and helps families financially. 

If you smoke you are seven times more likely to be admitted to hospital and live with poor health daily.

We are also taking the opportunity to help people give up smoking while they are in hospital and afterwards as you are four times more likely to quit if you have support.   

We are looking to be smoke free across all our hospital and community settings by 2030 and we are working hard to make this ambition happen.

As a collective, we want to make a real positive difference to the health of everyone in Torbay and South Devon and stay well together. 

Finally, we have seen the success of vaccinations but know there is more to do to keep ourselves well, physically and mentally.

You are not alone and there is lots of support available to help you and your family live well.

Visit www.devonccg.nhs.uk/health-services for information on services available to you locally. 

The last year has been so tough on our health, prevention makes sense as a focus for the next five years.

Dr Joanne Watson , health and care strategy director for Torbay and South Devon NHS Foundation Trust (TSDFT)

Health and care strategy director for Torbay and South Devon NHS Foundation Trust (TSDFT), Dr Joanne Watson is responsible for delivering the health and care strategy which focuses on making sure services meet the current and future needs of Torbay and South Devon while supporting them to live well. - Credit: Mark Bryan