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Our tendency to undervalue personal health is problematic at an individual level. But it is frankly unfathomable at the societal level, where we still view health through the lens of its absence.

It’s in baffling contrast to how Whitehall would balance the books on, say, defence or finance: what a banker might call “value” or an admiral term “strategic reserve” we have neither the right language nor metrics for on health. This shows just how far our thinking is skewed only to the illness side of the equation, the losses column.

In the future we need to think about health—our total health—as a strategic national asset, to be measured, protected and grown. This requires new metrics that properly capture the overlapping drivers of health. But it also means a shift in philosophy so that we think about prosperity as the sum of wealth and health. After all, who would consider a billionaire on their deathbed as prospering?

But to really value health we should learn from the banks, especially central banks with their role as both regulator and long-term steward. With this in mind, I propose a National Health Bank (NHB), inspired by the Bank of England. Where the NHS has become focussed on illness, the NHB would invest in strengthening the UK’s net present health—funding only the interventions promising the best health returns on its investment.

In the future we need to think about health—our total health—as a strategic national asset

Like all central banks, the health bank will have a powerful role regulating market players—holding sway over a pay or play system where bad health actors will have to contribute financially to offset their activity. This, in turn, will fill its coffers—enabling our bank to play its stewardship role, not as a lender of last resort, but as an investor of first resort; funding prevention not cure.

In controlling a major health fund, the health bank will be able to take the long view and invest in the community and medical initiatives that will strengthen overall health resilience across the UK.

But to do this it needs scale. So, simultaneously, I propose we also introduce a flat 1 per cent inheritance tax ringfenced for this fund (not the NHS!). A universal paying-it-forward – creating a financial force to make possible the interventions and research that will deliver longer, healthier, happier lives.

This article was originally published as part of Minister for the Future in partnership with Prospect. Illustrations by Ian Morris. You can read the original feature on the Prospect website.