Hopes for the next Senedd term – British Medical Association

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ViewsApril 30th, 2021

Dr Michael Thomas says resilience must be at heart of the next Welsh Government’s focus

A healthy population is better protected from long term health conditions and infections. While this statement has been accepted for some time, over the last year it has taken on a new level of importance. Research published in the British Medical Journal now confirms that obesity significantly increases a person’s risk of dying from COVID-19, while the British Lung Foundation advise that people with long-term lung conditions are at a high risk of severe illness from the virus. In the face of such stark information, the next Welsh Government must waste no time in ensuring that the health of our population is at the forefront of their policies for the next five years.

A key factor in this will be reducing the significant health inequalities that we see across Wales. Only with this as a cornerstone of Welsh Government investment and focus will we see a population that is better protected from future viruses and illnesses and better equipped to recover if people do become ill. After the unprecedented pressures that healthcare staff have experienced since COVID-19 arrived in Wales, the Welsh NHS will undoubtedly need additional support to help it recover. The same applies to the many patients still suffering from long-COVID and the myriad of services that are needed to support the varied symptoms being experienced.

However, investment in prevention is just as important. Investment to help people better look after their own health, through reducing smoking and alcohol misuse, as well as by encouraging greater uptake in active travel and physical exercise, must be forthcoming. We must not forget that mental health and wellbeing goes hand-in-hand with physical health and wellbeing. Therefore increased support for mental health services, in particular services to support children and young people, will be fundamental to reducing health inequalities experienced across Wales in the future. It is no coincidence that Rhondda Cynon Taf is both the local authority with the UK’s highest COVID death rate and one of only two areas in Wales with more than 30 unemployed people for every job vacancy. The Future Generations Commissioner for Wales has highlighted the fact that mental ill health is significant in the areas of Wales with high deprivation, unemployment, low educational attainment, crime and substance misuse. By preventing and mitigating the impact of Adverse Childhood Experiences, these inequalities can be significantly reduced in future generations and in turn can give these communities a more equal opportunity to become more resilient.

One more significant ingredient will be required from Welsh Government when building resilience and better health in some of Wales’ most deprived areas: air quality. Inequalities are greater, and levels of deprivation higher, in areas with some of the poorest air quality. Therefore it is critical that whoever holds the purse strings after 6th May 2021 takes immediate action to reduce air pollution levels by expanding clean air zones as well as implementing better monitoring of air quality where the most vulnerable people in our society live. Through this full suite of inter-linked policies, the next Welsh Government has an opportunity to see a healthier Wales, with fewer health inequalities, and which is better protected, more resilient and less reliant on the NHS.

BMA Cymru Wales’ full list of priorities for the next Welsh Government can be found HERE

Dr Michael Thomas is chair of the BMA’s Welsh committee for public health medicine

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