Health is improving in Wales, but tackling the health gaps between the richest and poorest areas requires a creative response from all public services.
That’s the message from the new Chief Medical Officer for Wales Dr Frank Atherton in his first annual report, Rebalancing Healthcare: working in partnership to reduce social inequity, written with Deputy Chief Medical Officer Professor Chris Jones.
The report looks at how harms such as smoking and poor health are seen in higher rates among economically disadvantaged groups of people, who also experience higher levels of illness and early death. The report analyses how this social gradient affects people in Wales and what we need to do to address it.
It suggests public services should work together to better target people who are disadvantaged, to reduce the effect of health inequalities and should work more closely with communities to reach those at greatest risk.
Dr Atherton and Professor Jones launched the report with a visit to a breakfast club in Splott run by community volunteers who offer a place for people to come and eat together and learn of local services available to them.
The service is designed and run by local people who earn Time Credits for their volunteering which they can use to access local activities and opportunities through the SPICE community currency initiative.
Dr Atherton said:
“I came to work in Wales because of the strong resolve to improve health outcomes in the Welsh Government, the NHS and the public sector. From what I’ve seen so far there’s a lot to be proud of and much that is going in the right direction.
“Life expectancy in Wales is improving. Cancer survival rates are improving year on year and fewer people are dying of cardiovascular disease. We have seen smoking and drinking rates decline sharply amongst teenagers in recent years.
“However, our social circumstances and environmental factors are a significant influence on our health. So improving the health of the nation and reducing health inequalities means we must look at these wider influences.
“It should never be the case that those who have the most advantages in society get the best access to services – everyone deserves an equal chance at the best possible life.”
Deputy Chief Medical Officer Professor Chris Jones said:
“It is vital that we concentrate our efforts where we can help people the most and we are increasingly seeing the NHS and other services respond to this need.
“Health inequalities don’t have to be inevitable. In 2010-11, there was evidence that the most deprived people were 20% less likely to receive an angioplasty or bypass operation in the six months following admission for a heart attack. Improved health service planning in South Wales has eliminated this health inequity between the most and least deprived patients.
“This breakfast club demonstrates how services designed with people locally can play a part. The team can offer access to local support including health and wellbeing services, digital and financial inclusion and much more – all of which can have a positive impact.
“Health professionals alone cannot tackle poor health; our report explains how services in Wales must take a more co-ordinated approach.”