Unacceptable health inequalities in Wales

Unacceptable health inequalities in Wales

A new programme to reduce the number of people in some of Wales’ most deprived communities from dying prematurely from cardiovascular disease and cancer has been launched by Deputy Health Minister Vaughan Gething today in Blaenau Gwent.

Speaking at the launch of Aneurin Bevan University Health Board’s inverse care law Living Well Living Longer programme, which is the first of its kind in Wales, the Deputy Minister said that despite overall improvements in life expectancy, more needs to be done to address the unacceptable inequalities in health outcomes in Wales.

In Wales, there is a significant difference in rates of avoidable mortality between the least and most deprived socioeconomic groups. Average life expectancy for men in Wales is 78.2 (2010-12) but life expectancy for men living in Blaenau Gwent is just 75.7 years – one of the five lowest in England and Wales. There is also a much greater burden of illness in the county so the number of years spent in good health are reduced.

Living Well Living Longer has identified cardiovascular disease and cancer as the major causes of premature mortality in the local area as they place a disproportionate burden on communities with the greatest socioeconomic deprivation.

Cardiovascular disease and cancer share many factors, such as poor diet, little exercise, smoking and excess alcohol intake. In addition, evidence-based interventions are available, which can reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease and to delay progression once disease has been diagnosed.

In the first phase of the Living Well Living Longer programme, targeted support will be provided to people with the need by identifying those at the greatest risk of developing cardiovascular disease.

The health check will include simple questions about lifestyle and family history.  People will be offered a blood pressure, pulse and cholesterol check to assess their risk of developing cardiovascular disease over the next 10 years.  The check will record age, ethnicity, height, weight and waist measurement. With the results, participants will jointly identify their priorities for reducing their risk of cardiovascular disease and agree a plan of action.  They will also receive a personal report of their results and steps they can take to reduce their risk.

People will be offered advice about diet and exercise, including, where appropriate, referral to exercise schemes or support from local smoking cessation services, which will be increasingly available by community pharmacies. Medical treatment for high blood pressure and raised cholesterol levels will also be offered where appropriate.

The Welsh Government has provided Aneurin Bevan University Health Board with £300,000 in 2014-15 to improve primary and community care to support the delivery of the programme.

Mr Gething said:

“Despite overall improvements in life expectancy, more needs to be done to address the unacceptable inequalities in health outcomes between Wales’ most and least deprived communities.

“I welcome this plan from the health board to tackle inequalities in health across its local communities.

“It is very fitting that the communities of Tredegar and Ebbw Vale are pioneering this programme, especially as the founder of the NHS, Aneurin Bevan, was the MP for these areas.

“Much can be done through actions to tackle health inequalities at source – such as improving diet, doing more exercise, stop smoking and drinking alcohol responsibly.

“Aneurin Bevan and Cwm Taf university health boards were selected as the leads for this work as these areas experience some of the most significant health inequalities. The learning from the Living Well Living Longer programme will inform similar work across Wales in the future.”