NHS warns more needs to be done to tackle social inequality and improve health

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The director of public health at NHS Fife has warned that more needs to be done to tackle social inequality before health can improve.

At the policy and co-ordination committee on Thursday, Dona Milne told councillors that more needs to be done to target those in poverty before their health and well-being can be improved.

Ms Milne said: “Scottish health is improving but not fast enough. There has been a halt in the improvement of life expectancy. I’m not trying to be political, but studies have pointed to austerity and a redesign in public services for being the main cause.

“There has been a shift in health care to prevention methods. Health care isn’t the main determinant of health, but the social and economic conditions which people live.

“The advice from the chief medical officer in England is don’t smoke, follow a balanced diet, keep active, manage stress, practice safe sex and go for cancer screenings.

“However, the Townsend Centre had alternative advice from one of their studies which said don’t be poor, don’t live in a deprived area, don’t be disabled, don’t work in a low paid job, don’t be homeless, have enough money to pay for an annual holiday, don’t be a lone parent, and be able to afford a car.”

Ms Milne continued: “You need a shift to prevention if you really want to make a change in the lives of the people of Fife. The lowest socio-economic groups often have the poorest health outcomes.

“Personally I think we have made some fantastic progress. We have some circumstances now that are not benefiting our population and we need to have a look at some of these areas.”

Councillor Tim Brett asked if Ms Milne could elaborate on the circumstances.

Ms Milne said: “There are some challenges around things like Universal Credit and benefit changes, zero hours contracts, short term employment, not getting the living wage – there are a number of things.”

Cllr David Ross said: “There obviously needs to be more of a focus on prevention, which we as a council need to emphasise. But the reality is with budget pressures, all those things are under threat and we need to prevent it as much as we can.

“We need to make sure we’re making the most of the resources we have.”