Calling Mr Hancock: do you want some extra ounces?

The new health secretary should look to insurance when it comes to utilising health tech and prevention services to create a sustainable healthcare system.


Benjamin Franklin is well known for once advising fire-threatened Philadelphians that “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” Unsurprisingly, that axiom has been applied beyond just fires and houses, with prevention long identified as being key to ensuring a sustainable healthcare system.

The NHS is facing significant long-term challenges and the health secretary faces one of the trickiest jobs in Whitehall (not mentioning that which shall not be named). An aging population and obesity are just two of the biggest challenges that we are not yet equipped to tackle. In his first speech as Health Secretary, Mr Hancock identified two of his main early priorities as the need to keep people out of hospital, by focusing on prevention, and improving the efficiency of healthcare by utilising technology. On both, he should look to insurance for willing partners.

Everyone – individuals, employers, insurers and the state – benefits if people do not get ill. Traditionally, insurance policyholders would only engage with their insurer when making a claim or renewing their policy. This is changing. Insurers are moving away from only intervening after an incident towards empathising prevention and wellbeing. Insurers are encouraging healthy habits and providing people with the means to intervene at an early stage, which enables individuals to take care of their everyday health, and therefore reduce the financial burden on the NHS and, thus, supporting a more sustainable healthcare system. 

This isn’t just a nice narrative either – it has substance. Vitality, a life and health insurer, have recently demonstrated that use of their wellness programme has substantial long-term benefits with 39 per cent of smokers, 50 per cent of the insufficiently-active, and 36 per cent of those with poor diets, moving into the healthy range after one year. Surely these are the sort of stats that Mr Hancock would do a jig to?

They aren’t the only ones. Utilisation of prevention services and new technology is embedded across a range of insurance products. Simplyhealth provide a 24/7 virtual GP service, Aviva’s BacktoBetter provides immediate support to employees experiencing back, neck, muscle or joint pain – helping ensure individuals get back to work quickly, and AXA PPP healthcare has teamed up with a health-tech start-up BioBeats, to help employees manage stress and fatigue through wearable technology. But this is only the beginning of the journey, with insurers set to increase how they utilise tech and prevention for the benefit of all.

The digitisation of health records is a major opportunity to improve efficiency, and the arrival of GDPR has also increased the need to utilise technology to improve data protection. Insurers are driving this. They are replacing paper with software when asking GPs for medical information, with the consent of their customers. This not only makes life easier for GPs and speeds up how insurance is provided to customers, but it significantly improves the security of patient data.

With one third of people born today estimated to live to 100, and an increase of 10 million people projected to be living with a long-term condition by 2030, it is encouraging that the Health Secretary has identified prevention and technology as ‘mission critical to making the health and social care system sustainable’. He should see insurance as an incubator for harnessing both. Insurers can help him prove that these are not intangible fads but have practical applications to meeting the very large healthcare challenges we face.


Last updated 31/07/2018