High levels of alcohol consumption and obesity have marred Labour's NHS record since Tony Blair came to power in 1997, according to a new report.
According to the report "A High Performing NHS?" by the independent health charity the King's Fund, the UK is afflicted by deteriorating eating and drinking habits, notwithstanding a number of public health drives.
AdvertisementThe study warns the NHS will face a 21 billion pound gap in its funding by 2014 as the service struggles with tighter budgets and growing demand, including the needs of an ageing population.
"In the medium term, financially, the NHS is facing the worst of times," the Observer quoted the report as reading.
While the study does acknowledge that an increase in the number of GPs, new walk-in centres and GP-led health centres with extended opening hours, have made it easier to find a doctor it also points out to the problems of many others who have not been able to avail such convenience.
It says: "There remain some people who are still not able to see their GP at times that suit them and confusion about out-of-hours services."
As for the battle against excessive drinking, the King's Fund sees "no sign that the government's aims to reduce harmful alcohol consumption have been achieved".
It says ministers took six years from the time they promised an "alcohol harm reduction strategy" in 1998 to the point where they finally published one.
Hospital admissions related to alcohol consumption have increased by 69percent between 2002-03 and 2007-08, to 863,000.
"Alcohol-related harm has soared under this government, which has relied too much on voluntary agreements with the industry on things like advertising, labelling and irresponsible promotion. The whole booze culture is a massive problem," Prof Alan Maryon-Davis, president of the UK Faculty of Public Health, said.
Taking about obesity the report says "there is no sign of the tide turning" despite numerous healthy eating campaigns, improving antenatal nutrition and a rise in the level of exercise taken by young people and adults.
In 2007, 24percent of men and women were classified as obese but experts predict this will rise to 41percent of men in 2020 and 36percent of women.
Childhood obesity has also soared, according to the report.
It notes that information campaigns have not been as successful as hoped because "not all adults and children can correctly identify what equates to a fruit or vegetable 'portion'."
Maryon-Davis said: "[Ministers] have hardly dented the overall obesity problem. They need to be tougher with the food industry over both the labelling and reformulation of products to produce more lower-calories versions."