More Focus On Health Inequalities Needed

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Wales is getting healthier with people living longer lives, but the gap between the most and least healthy regions is widening with some diseases, Wales's top doctor said today.

In his second annual report, the Chief Medical Officer for Wales, Dr Tony Jewell, highlights that although deaths from heart disease are falling, cancer mortality rates are increasing between the least and most affluent areas.

Dr Jewell said that a greater focus on narrowing the gap in health inequalities was needed in order to continue improving the overall health of the nation.

Wales has seen a reduction of over 200 deaths from coronary heart disease per 100,000 of population between 2001 and 2006 and has also surpassed the target for reducing deaths from stroke.

However, with cancer, the gap between the least and most deprived areas in Wales increased from 62 deaths per 100,000 in 2001 to 78 deaths per 100,000 in 2006.

Dr Jewell said: "Overall, the health of the people of Wales is continuing to get better. A child born in Wales today can expect to live to the age of 80 or more.

"Long term trends in decreasing deaths from heart disease and improved life expectancy have also continued.

"Improvements in tackling coronary heart disease mean we are on track to meet our 2012 target of reducing deaths from the disease to 400 per 100,000 population. Improvements are also being seen in more disadvantaged communities.

"However, with regard to cancer, inequalities between different areas and social groups are not decreasing.

"We are not alone in facing such inequalities as similar patterns are seen worldwide, but we have to recognise our problems are serious and deep-seated."

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The CMO said that high smoking rates were still a major cause of health inequalities. People in the most deprived populations in Wales are twice as likely to smoke as those in the least deprived areas.

Dr Jewel will launch his report at Brynteg Lower School, Bridgend when he visits a Welsh Assembly Government programme that aims to persuade schoolchildren against smoking.

He said: "Efforts are needed to reduce the levels of smoking, especially stopping young people from starting in the first place, as it is a major cause of health inequalities.

"The ban on smoking in public places will also assist a decline in smoking rates and consumption."

The report says that people in areas of relative deprivation are also more likely to be overweight or obese, have higher rates of drug and alcohol misuse and undertake less physical activity – all significant factors on health inequalities.

Dr Jewell said he was leading the Welsh Assembly Government's work on a new public health strategic framework, Our Healthy Future, to be published as a consultation next year, to tackle these and other issues with the aim that Wales becomes a healthier and fairer nation for all.

The report highlights three other dominant issues that will affect the health of the population in Wales in the short and medium term.

These are:

* the health effects of climate change – with the concentration of ozone likely to increase, there will be an impact, both in Wales and globally, in terms of a rise in increased deaths and hospital admissions;

* preparing for emerging infections – modern air travel means a heightened risk of the spread of new infections; and,

* managing chronic conditions and healthy ageing – one in six hospital admissions are attributable to a chronic condition, usually in older people.

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