By Chris Bowers, Lib Dem parliamentary candidate for Brighton Pavilion

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It’s possible that not everyone who recognises the acronym ‘NHS’ knows what the letters stand for. Maybe that’s not such a bad thing, because I’ve always felt the National Health Service is a bit of a misnomer.

To me, the body that administers our basic medical needs is not so much a health service as a National Sickness Service. We don’t use it when we’re healthy, only when we’re sick. True, in recent years it has done a lot of good work on screening for illnesses, but even that is to check whether a sickness is there – it’s not actually promoting health.

That’s why one of the less trumpeted parts of the Liberal Democrat manifesto is, for me, one of the most important. Alongside our commitment to give an extra £8bn to the NHS by 2020 and increase current funding in line with inflation over the next five years, and give a £250 annual payment to carers, there’s a commitment to preventing illness.

There are many ways of preventing illness, but the main two are healthy eating and regular exercise. On both, the country needs some serious attention to detail. We have allowed the food companies to label processed foods as ‘healthy’ when they are often anything but (I have learned to distrust the label ‘no added sugar’ as it normally means something has sweeteners which can be worse than refined sugar); pressures of time rob people of the space to cook which in turn encourages processed foods; and we have taken away many ways in which people can take easy exercise, like selling off playing fields.

I’m often pressed to explain the fundamental difference between the Lib Dems and Labour, given that I believe both to be ‘progressive’ parties motivated primarily by a wish to create a fairer society rather than by self-interest. But one big difference is that I believe the Lib Dems celebrate the individual more than Labour, albeit in the context of a cohesive society in which the least fortunate are looked after and everyone has a fair chance.

That’s why I’d love to celebrate the pursuit of individual health as a positive thing. Let the NHS push for cycle lanes so people leave the car at home and cycle to some of their local destinations. Let the NHS promote yoga and swimming clubs, and walking in the hills. Let the NHS celebrate ‘cook your own healthy food’ initiatives, from local adult education classes to Jamie Oliver. And much more.

Then it would really be worthy of its name.

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  1. Eric Watts says:

    The word ‘health’ is appropriate as it’s original purpose was to restore health and now it has an important role in promoting good health

  2. Robert Jones says:

    I should concentrate on removing Lansley’s Health and Social Care Act before getting too perturbed about the name of the service, or health promotion. Incidentally, this corporate approach seems far more collectivist than anything Labour has produced: perhaps you could name your programme Strength Through Joy; it appears to have a lot in common with it.

    It is this kind of twaddle that gives politics a worse name than it’s already got: in 5 years, allegedly in government, LibDems have done nothing about effective food labelling, or promotion of healthy lifestyles – always assuming one could agree on what those might be. Now, an election approaching, a sainted LibDem mounts the pulpit, nervously checks to make sure the curate isn’t molesting someone behind the rood screen, and delivers a string of pieties whose chief intent is to conceal the fact that the church has substantial investments in Park-Your-Granny Inc, set up to privatize old people’s homes and looking for further opportunities in the NHS estate.

    As health promotion this has already failed:my blood pressure is zooming upwards again.

  3. George Nieman says:

    I think Chris Bowers has too much time on his hands. He needs something to keep him busy instead of such tripe as he has written here. There is no other way to refer to our NHS other than it is now

  4. Irwin says:

    Who cares what LDs think about anything. Having watched them vote through the H&SC Act – voting time after time after time with Tories they deserve to be made extinct.
    Only Labour has made clear it will abolish the market.

  5. rpdutt says:

    Since the Lib Dems are not short of platforms to put forward their views, it is hard to see why an organisation nominally, at least, committed to socialism should allow them space for their blether

  6. It’s obvious that there will be a period of negotiation after the election. It seems worth examining the ideas of other parties to see, as far as health is concerned, what there might be agreement about.

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