Health Minister Lesley Griffiths today launched a Green Paper to gather views about whether the Welsh Government should introduce a Bill to improve the health of the people of Wales.
She said the consultation was part of a wider exercise – a Big Health Debate – to ask what else Wales could be doing to improve the health of the nation.
Although the overall health of the nation is improving, there are modern public health challenges facing Wales.
More than half of adults and around a third of children are overweight or obese; alcohol consumption levels are too high; the decline in smoking rates in recent years has been slow; and health inequalities between the most and least deprived areas have widened.
If a Bill was introduced, it could propose action in areas including:
- a duty on the Welsh Government to assess all policy development in terms of its health impact – for example, transport, housing or education policy may all potentially protect or damage people’s health;
- a statutory duty on a range of organisations to reduce health inequalities – for example health boards could be required to address why take-up rates of health services may be lower in deprived groups;
- a statutory duty on bodies to strengthen the emphasis given to preventing poor health – for example just 5 per cent of the health budget is currently spent on prevention, so the NHS could be required to focus and spend more on preventing ill-health; and,
- strengthening community action around health and wellbeing – giving local communities an opportunity to be more involved in local decision-making on improving public health.
Lesley Griffiths said:
“Wales has been at the forefront of progressive public health policy, such as being the first country to vote for a ban on smoking in public places and the first to introduce free prescriptions.
“A great deal has already been achieved to improve and protect the health of our people. However, overall health in Wales does not fully match our aspirations.
“In particular, there is an urgent need to do more to prevent ill health occurring in the first place, and to tackle health inequalities.
“This Green Paper is the next logical step – to start a debate about whether new legislation would be an effective way of making progress in these areas.”
“I also want this to be a nationwide exercise – a Big Health Debate – among the public and other organisations – the young and old, the NHS, local government, voluntary organisations, disadvantaged groups and others – not only about whether we should consider legislation but also alternative actions to improve public health.”
Chief Medical Officer for Wales Dr Ruth Hussey said:
“Despite overall health improving, inequalities still persist. In the most deprived areas, the overall death rate is 80 per cent higher for males and 70 per cent higher for females than in more affluent areas.
“For example, people in Cyncoed and Butetown in Cardiff, just a few miles apart, face a 10 year difference in life expectancy.
“Much of the ill health the NHS deals with could have been avoided if effective action was taken earlier. Legislation is arguably the most powerful tool to achieve long term goals.
“Health inequalities have roots linked to poverty, geographic location, culture and lifestyles. Factors such as the quality of housing, transport, people’s environment and transport can affect public health. That’s why we need to consider legislation across the wider public sector, not just in ‘traditional’ health areas.
“We want to start a real discussion among everyone in Wales about how we may be able to use our legislative powers and in what areas we should consider such action.”
The consultation closes on 20 February 2013.