Scottish Government and councils lay out priorities for public health

Written by Tom Freeman on 15 June 2018 in News

Public bodies urged to play their part in public health as the NHS “cannot do this alone”

Glasgow playpark elephant - credit Martin Deutsch

Scottish ministers and council chiefs have agreed six areas of public health which need improved, including diet, exercise and reducing harm from drugs and alcohol.

In a new document outlining joint priorities, the Scottish Government and the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities (COSLA) committed to “stimulate action” across public sector departments as the NHS “cannot do this alone”.

Doctors and campaigners welcomed the commitment but warned words would need to be matched by action.

The aim of the report is to identify the role communities can play in the prevention agenda, including a focus on the early years, healthy places, mental resilience, tackling poverty, healthy diet and exercise and reducing harmful substances.

Public Health Minister Aileen Campbell said: “As well as improving the quality and length of people’s lives, we also want to reduce the social and economic impact of ill-health and inequality, and help build a nation where people achieve their potential.

“I am clear that the NHS cannot do this alone; wellbeing is created in wider society, in communities and across our public services, and we need all of these partners to work together.”

COSLA’s Health and social care spokesperson Peter Johnston said local government was committed to a “full and equal partnership” on health issues.

“We need to put our communities at the heart of efforts to improve people’s health. Councils have a key role to play through empowering communities and bringing partners together across the public, voluntary and private sectors.”

The BMA’s Scotland chair, Dr Peter Bennie, said the publication was a “welcome step” but added health professionals should remain involved in the discussions.

“Priorities are of little use without with bold, concrete and concerted action,” he said.

“Building on innovative policies like minimum unit pricing, the Scottish Government and all involved must not take a backward step in introducing policies that will make a real difference to the health of Scotland’s population.

“While that is not the purpose of this document, forthcoming strategies on things like obesity, to name just one example, simply must deliver clear action on the priorities areas that have now been set out.”

President of the Royal College of Physicians of Edinburgh Professor Derek Bell said public health challenges are complicated to solve.

“We welcome the Scottish Government’s recognition that wellbeing cannot be created and sustained by the NHS alone,” he said.

“Health and wellbeing starts at home and in the workplace, and whilst clinical services must always be given full government backing and financial support, we must ensure that as a society we are making healthy choices. Conditions such as obesity, diabetes and harm linked to smoking and alcohol mean that we have to be more mindful of what we consume, and how we exercise – healthy living will be the key to our success.”

Professor Steve Turner, Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health officer for Scotland, welcomed the focus on child health.

“We share Scottish Government’s vision that Scotland should be the best place in the world for a child to grow up.

“However, this can only be achieved through a health system that meets the need of every child and young person, and a child perspective central to Government policy-making. These priorities are a step in the right direction, and we look forward to working closely with Scottish Government to achieve this vision”.

A new arms-length public health body is planned to be established next year, which is expected to involve both NHS and local government partners.

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