Written by: Mark Weiss, FPH Policy Officer
‘Advocates for Challenge’ – Public Health from Evidence to Action
Firmly embracing the theme of the FPH Annual Conference 2012 – Looking to the Future, Building on the Past – Welsh Minister for Health and Social Services, Lesley Griffiths AM, warmly welcomed delegates to Cardiff, and recalled the seminal work of Julian Tudar Hart who some four decades ago proposed the Inverse care Law principle of inequity.
Hart’s premise was that the availability of good medical care varies inversely with population need – and operates more completely where medical care is exposed to market forces. It rings as true today as it did then. Through this prism of health inequalities, the Minister declared her firm commitment to tackling the social determinants of health, informed by the best available evidence and with the support of the public health community – a community Griffiths views as ‘advocates for challenge’.
And while the challenges confronting Wales are broad, the Minister affirmed that the Welsh Government is addressing them robustly. The five year vision for the NHS, Together for Health, has made a commitment to service modernisation; addressing health inequalities; developing better IT systems and an improved information strategy; improving the quality of care; workforce development; instigating a ‘compact with the public’; and introducing a changed financial regime.
Building on this encouraging work, Griffiths stated her dedication to a cross-governmental approach to public health (and against inequity) as integral to her agenda – not least on the reduction of child poverty. The ‘Flying Start Programme’, bringing together education, childcare, health and social services and the voluntary, private and statutory sectors to offer preventative interventions is a solid example of partnership working. The CMO, PHO and Public Health Wales all firmly support this initiative.
Echoing outgoing CMO Tony Jewell, who in his Annual Report 2011 set out the ‘stark challenge’ of inequalities, and the threat of non-communicable disease, the Minister stressed the need for a consensus on action on public health and sustainability. Griffiths identified several key threats in the CMO’s report, including alcohol, obesity and blood borne viruses (in particular Hepatitis b and c) – all exacerbating the life expectancy gap in Wales.
Addressing these issues requires solid evidence, and Griffiths underscored the ‘big role’ public health has to play informing this evidence which is listened to by Government. With real potential to effect far reaching policy change and a tangible impact in those areas where it matters the most, the work of Directors of Public Health and their annual reports, Public Health Wales and the wider public health workforce are, Griffiths stressed, essential to the development of a common vision.