Byline: JANE HUTT AM
Health is of interest to us all. It matters to us all. The NHS, its problems and its achievements, is always topical and we all have strong views on the service it delivers.
No other public service is held in such high esteem and provokes so much debate. We all care about its future because we have direct experience of what it has to offer but as Dr Bob Broughton of the BMA said last week, ``The NHS can be related to a vast seagoing tanker, which takes miles to stop and turn.''
The part of the NHS we come into contact with most often is not hospitals but those professions working directly in our communities, GPs, nurses, optometrists, pharmacists and dentists.
They are our first point of contact with the NHS and the place where the vast majority of our health needs are sorted out. More than 90pc of the general public's experience of the NHS takes place at primary care level both day and night.
It goes without saying that primary care is a vital part of the NHS. It is its very foundation. The whole primary care team play a vitally important role in the delivery of care linking up to the hospital and emergency services.
It is common sense that the primary care team should be strengthened and that those who are working on the frontline in our communities should have more say in the running of the NHS. They are aware of the needs of their communities on the ground because they are there themselves dealing with daily issues and problems.
The new Local Health Boards which will take over from the health authorities in April next year will put primary care in the lead. The primary care team will decide what is needed for their area, that funding gets to where it's needed without delay.
The new structure will be unique in the UK as it will match the NHS with local authorities, ensuring that they can work even closer together forging the links to deliver the best possible care for people.
Together their concerns and responsibilities will extend to issues relating to health in the widest sense, making the links between health, housing and the environment, putting community health development on the agenda to tackle the poverty and inequalities which have such an impact on the need for health services in Wales.
There can be no denying that this is a time of great change. But it is change for the better. It's not just the structure which is changing. The Welsh Assembly Government has already delivered improvements in the primary care services we use every day.
Wales is the only country in the UK where people under 25 have free prescriptions. This is a significant development as people in this group are often on low incomes as they are either studying or earn less than others if they are in employment. The cost of prescriptions in Wales has been frozen for two consecutive years, whereas elsewhere in the UK the cost has risen.
Good eyesight is very important to us all and we have put in place truly innovative schemes to provide care for those who are most vulnerable to problems. Free eye care examinations have been introduced for those people most likely to suffer from eye diseases which can lead to blindness if left untreated.
Those suffering from diabetes in Wales will have free access to an eye screening service which will detect the first signs of difficulty, which can cause serious complications if undiagnosed. This scheme, again, is leading the way in the UK.
Later this year I will be launching a Low Vision Aid scheme which will enable people who suffer with poor eyesight to be assessed in order that appropriate help can be provided to assist with their daily lives. This service will be provided by …