Research project explores ways to prevent disease and save NHS money


Researchers looking at ways to improve disease prevention and reduce the amount of money the NHS spends on drugs are asking members of the public to have their say in a nationwide survey.

Dr Aamir Hussain, a Biomedical Science fellow at De Montfort University Leicester (DMU), is working alongside colleagues Dr Mariasole Da Boit, Dr Lourdes Santos-Merx and Mr Ahmed Aboo, to lead a study to evaluate how important the public thinks genes and lifestyle factors are in the progression of diseases.


“The NHS is currently designed to treat sick people rather than prevent people getting sick,” said Dr Hussain. “We want to explore the views of the UK population and see if they think enough is being done to prevent disease in the first place.”

The survey has been structured to assess how important participants think genetic factors are compared to lifestyle factors, in the development of diseases including cancer, type 2 diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis and cardiovascular disease.

“We know that the onset of these diseases can be caused by inherited genes but it’s also proven that they can occur because of lifestyle choices,” said Dr Hussain.

“We’re asking people to tell us which of the two they think is more important so that we can hopefully demonstrate to policymakers how NHS money could be better spent to prevent disease.”

Known as ‘lifestyle’ diseases, cancer, type 2 diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis and cardiovascular disease can all be associated with the way a person lives.

“Past research has proven that habits including smoking and drinking alcohol can increase the risk of being diagnosed with these diseases. It’s also been shown that regular physical activity can help reduce the risk,” continued Dr Hussain.

Aamir main image
Dr Aamir Hussain 

“We are hoping that the results of our survey will help us to understand what people know, so that we can develop more targeted prevention plans.”

Between 2016 and 2017, it is estimated that the NHS spent more than £17.4 billion on medicine.

“The NHS spends billions of pounds on what we call ‘borderline’ medicines, which are essentially drugs for patients who are at risk of developing these diseases. What we want to know is whether people recognise healthy lifestyle choices as a cost-effective alternative treatment for preventing disease,” said Dr Hussain.

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In January this year the NHS published its Long Term Plan (LTP), hailing prevention as a way to save 500,000 lives over the next 10 years. It sets out new, funded action that the NHS will take to help people stay healthy and moderate demand on its services.

“The idea is that the NHS should complement the healthy lifestyle choices made by patients, rather than be a substitute,” added Dr Hussain. “Our research is intended to highlight which factors the UK taxpayers think are most important when discussing disease prevention so that NHS funding is spent in the best possible way and we can work together to meet NHS objectives.

“We want to give the general public a voice to have their say on improving the NHS. Once we have collated our results we intend to write and submit a white paper to the government.”

The survey is open to anyone over the age of 18 who has never suffered from cancer, type 2 diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis or cardiovascular disease.

To take part click here.

Posted on Wednesday 23rd October 2019

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