Diolch, Dirprwy Lywydd. Dr Frank Atherton has quite rightly outlined well the multiple issues that require all of our attention and, indeed, some Government action. He reminds us all of the importance of research, awareness and effective collaboration in order to tackle the major health threats facing us in Wales, and also to be prepared for expected health and social changes. Infections, environmental threats, rising obesity levels—particularly childhood obesity, with 27 per cent of children aged four to five now classed as overweight or obese—smoking-related deaths, and the ever-evolving needs of our ageing society are major causes of concern.
The recent levelling of life expectancy rates requires monitoring. Most concerning, however, is the variation between the most and least deprived areas of Wales, generally being an eight-year gap between economically secure households and less economically viable ones. In terms of healthy life expectancy, this variation increases to a momentous 18-year difference.
Crucially, as explored in chapter 1, care of the elderly population in Wales needs to be based on a whole-system approach that acknowledges the right for elderly people to age well, both physically and mentally. And it also takes into consideration the forecasted population increase by 58 per cent for those aged 75 and over. This is pivotal. As we are all aware, elderly people are most at risk of developing dementia—and that has been discussed earlier today—along with other illnesses such as cancer, which has become one of the most fatal and painful illnesses of our generation. This, however, should be considered alongside the fact that older people are more likely to experience complications from multiple health conditions, which can make diagnosis and treatment difficult.
Further, the medical officer outlines four recommendations so that our healthcare system and approach is both prudent and value driven. This includes a development of infrastructure, data, good practice and excellent communication. Now, I recognise that creating a data-driven system is integral to ascertaining where investment should be channelled to tackle the biggest health threats. Research is integral to the successful delivery of our health strategy and therefore I do urge the Welsh Government to continue funding such meaningful research, co-ordinating activity among key stakeholders and, where possible, to further engage the public in those various stages of research.
The Government should also look to promote the work of Health Wise Wales, which is now asking the public to share their thoughts on the most pressing health, well-being and social care questions as part of their national project. Indeed, Cancer Research UK’s report, ‘Bench to Bedside’, calls on the Welsh Government to drastically improve its funding for medical research, particularly quality-related research. More precisely, I wish to bring attention to Cancer Research UK’s calls that the Welsh Government innovates its strategic thinking and planning mechanisms to attract and support researchers with new funding opportunities. This is urgent in light of Brexit, as funding streams from the EU to UK medical research could be lost.
Deputy Presiding Officer, I encourage the Welsh Government to be proactive with other devolved nations, such as Scotland, in order to improve our knowledge, understanding and response to the health challenges affecting us today. Obesity is one of these, so I therefore welcome the introduction of the healthy weight plan. I hope that this will improve the current worrying statistics on fruit and vegetable consumption.
Finally, I believe that Dr Atherton has brought attention to less overt health threats, such as antimicrobial resistance, anti-vaccination trends, healthcare acquired infections, chemical contamination, and the effect of changes in our climate and natural environment, such as the release of radiation, flooding, and extreme weather variations.
The chief medical officer states that more work with GP practices is needed to ensure appropriate antibacterial use. Similarly, schools should continue to be encouraged to provide both MMR vaccinations to children so that the current percentage rates of those being vaccinated rise. I am keen to ask the Welsh Government what plans are in place to improve the uptake of vaccinations in harder-to-reach demographics. I uphold Dr Atherton's recommendations and urge the Government to act on this most interesting and robust report so that we can continue to protect the health of Welsh people and deliver our healthcare aims. Thank you