Individuals must take more responsibility for their health to prevent too great a burden being placed on the NHS, the prime minister Tony Blair said today.
In a speech in Nottingham as part of his series of Our Nation's Future lectures, Mr Blair called for a "new and more robust approach to health".
Comparing the current health situation with that of the 19th century, Mr Blair said: "Today our task is different. Our public health problems today are not strictly speaking public health questions at all.
"They are questions of lifestyle. They are the result of millions of individual decisions."
He added: "In the future healthcare cannot be just about treating the sick but must be about helping us to live healthier, this requires more from all of us – government, business and individuals - if necessary in a tougher way than ever before.
"[The alternative is one] in which the capacity of the NHS to treat us simply won't keep pace with the state of the country's health."
He warned that the rising problems associated with obesity, alcoholism and smoking were "widespread and worsening" and that if people failed to heed the government's warnings then huge pressures will be placed on the NHS.
"These individual actions lead to a collective cost. It is worth pausing to consider the consequences if we fail to act. Economic burdens could be vast."
He drew attention to the fact that burdens are already huge; heart disease costs £8 billion per annum, the full cost of obesity is £7 billion, £1.7 billion of costs are due to smoking, £1.7 billion to alcohol and £20 billion to alcohol related harm.
Mr Blair questioned the role of government in ensuring the nation's wellbeing and said that although the government should help people make the right choices, it cannot do it by itself, warning: "We all now pay a collective price for the failure to take responsibility".