Debate Swings into Action over Need for Laws to Improve the Nation's Health; PUBLIC ASKED IF LEGISLATION WILL TACKLE INEQUALITIES

Article excerpt

Byline: JULIA MCWATT Health Correspondent

A CONSULTATION on whether legislation is needed to improve the nation's health has been launched by Heath Minister Lesley Griffiths.

The Public Health Green Paper is asking the public if it believes laws are needed to improve health issues like diet and exercise in a bid to tackle health inequalities and improve quality of life.

It centres around placing legal duties on the Welsh Government and other bodies, including local authorities and the NHS, to do more to improve the population's health. Ms Griffiths said the consultation is part of a wider exercise, dubbed the "big health debate", to ask what else the country should be doing to improve health.

Health Lesley She said: "Wales has been at the forefront of progressive public health policy, such as being the first country to vote for a ban on smoking in public places and the first to introduce free prescriptions. "A great deal has already been achieved to improve and protect the health of our people.

"However, overall health in Wales does not fully match our aspirations. In particular, there is an urgent need to do more to prevent ill health occurring in the first place, and to tackle health inequalities.

"This Green Paper is the next logical step - to start a debate about whether new legislation would be an effective way of making progress in these areas.

"It provides us with a valuable opportunity to explore the role legislation could have in helping us achieve our overall aspirations for the health and wellbeing of people in Wales and in addressing some of the complex challenges to health which we face in the 21st century.

"I also want this to be a nationwide exercise - a Big Health Debate - among the public and other organisations - the young and old, the NHS, local government, voluntary organisations, disadvantaged groups and others - not only about whether we should consider legislation, but also alternative actions to improve public health."

The paper forms part of the Welsh Government's Together for Health five-year vision for health and health services in Wales.

Ideas put forward in the paper include requiring Welsh ministers to consider health issues when formulating policy and requiring appropriate bodies to consider how their own policies could tackle health inequality, improve prevention of health problems and get communities more involved in decisions that affect their health.

The launch of the consultation, which ends in February 2013, follows a report by the former Chief Medical Officer Dr Tony Jewell that uncovered stark health inequalities, poor diet and lack of exercise in Wales.

Minister Published in July, the report revealed the proportion of obese people living in Wales' most deprived areas is 70% higher than in those areas that are least deprived. …