There are prevailing, deep health inequalities that exist in Wales, and they manifest themselves in many ways.

Peredur Owen Griffiths MS, Plaid Cymru Spokesperson for Communities and Older People writes for the Western Mail

There are prevailing, deep health inequalities that exist in Wales, and they manifest themselves in many ways.

For example, the communities that I represent in the south east of Wales have some of the lowest life expectancies in Wales. Ambulance response times, waiting times for Cancer treatment, access to care and quality of life are all factors that vary throughout Wales.

Many of these inequalities in the care and health sectors in communities were exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic, which has had massively increased the burden on all services - but they were already struggling.

Indeed, the pandemic has amplified the differences that already existed due to more than a decade of Westminster austerity. As we have seen this week with news of yet another lockdown-busting party in 10 Downing Street, there are a privileged few that live by a different set of rules it seems.

If we are to build back to a healthier, fairer Wales post Covid, we need to rethink how we can improve health. A healthy future means addressing wider determinants of health such as income, education, housing and good work, particularly for those communities facing disadvantage, many of whom have been affected disproportionately by the COVID-19 pandemic.


We need a clear and broad strategy

If we are to rebuild a healthier, fairer Wales post-Covid, we need a strategy and action plan to tackle health inequalities but also social inequalities that have been lacking for a good while.

Broad action on the underlying determinants of health equity are needed, such as redistribution of income and opportunities, improvements to living conditions and air quality and preventative policies when it comes to drug and alcohol misuse.

A major part of this strategy should include addressing access to healthy food. Providing free healthy school meals for children has long been a priority for Plaid Cymru, and I’m proud that we secured this for all Primary School Children as part of the co-operation agreement.


Preventative measures

Prevention is about helping people stay healthy, happy and independent for as long as possible. This means reducing the chances of problems from arising in the first place and, when they do, supporting people to manage them as effectively as possible. Prevention is as important at seventy years old as it is at age seven.

We must address smoking, the need for more accessible drug and alcohol services, promoting healthy diet and physical activity and improving access to health services in disadvantaged areas.

This is not a new concept. There has long been widespread consensus that the NHS should be actively involved in the prevention agenda. Yet, this consensus has not translated into meaningful changes to investment or service delivery patterns.


Ensuring that older people are not left behind

As my party’s spokesperson for Older People, the importance of supporting this large section of our society is an issue that is close to my heart.

As we get older, we become more vulnerable and susceptible to health and financial issues. In an increasingly digital society, we must ensure that access to GPs and for example still has a face to face aspect, and that the public transport infrastructure remains in place to support this.

As we get older, more of us will encounter Dementia, and we must make sure that equity for those in our care and nursing homes remains is of course a Plaid Cymru’s Westminster leader, Liz Saville Roberts, has recently called for visitation of family members to be enshrined as a human right for those with dementia. We know, of course, that keeping the human interaction is so vital for those with dementia.

Health inequalities have become a vital component as we learn more about the potential for reducing the possibility of developing dementia. Consideration of health inequalities should feed into dementia care plans as well as dementia risk reduction.


Dr Ciarán Humphreys of Public Health Wales has said: “Many conditions contribute to the gap in life expectancy between the least and most disadvantaged communities. This shows that we must look beyond simple medical explanations to the root causes and to the wider conditions in which people live.”

Indeed, a healthy and fairer future means addressing wider determinants of health such as income, education, housing and good work and access to services, particularly for those communities facing disadvantage.

We must act now, and do so for the benefit of everyone and every community in Wales.