Scotland- Our new year's resolution? A Fairer Healthier 2016, by Gerry McLaughlin, Chief Executive, NHS Health Scotland

10 January 2016

In January, Holyrood's Health and Sport Committee report argued that addressing health inequalities is everyone's business and that should be reflected in a much stronger cross Parliament, cross Committee approach and not just a job for the health service.

2015 has also seen important developments which impact on Public Health in Scotland, notably with the establishment of the Fair Work Convention which recognises the clear evidence of the link between “good work” and positive health and wellbeing. The post referendum maintenance of democratic participation particularly around the Smith Commission saw social justice pushed to the fore and drove the Scottish Government led national conversations on a healthier and fairer Scotland. And a particularly healthy development in my opinion, has been the helpful emphasis on the fundamental causes of inequalities rather than a simple focus on changing smoking, alcohol, and other health related behaviours important though this is for us all.

A good example of Government action in that regard was the policy commitment to Minimum Unit Pricing which frustratingly is still subject to legal challenge by the industry. We hope that this issue will be resolved during the course of next year. This has been a really good example of where our collective knowledge and understanding of the wider causes of health inequalities and what works to reduce these resulted in us proposing measures which will improve Scotland's health in an equitable way and I am proud of the role NHS Health Scotland continues to play in supporting this measure.

From a personal point of view, the prominence of fairness, social justice and human rights in our public discourse over the last year has been a pleasure to witness and be part of. There is no doubt that the democratic participation sparked by the referendum of last year and built on in the Smith process this year has enriched the public debate hugely – approaches to the reduction of health inequalities in Scotland have often been at the centre of that discourse.

At every opportunity we should build on this and help people understand that a socially just Scotland is a Fairer Scotland and a Healthier Scotland, and vice versa. The National Conversations on a Healthier and Fairer Scotland that began in 2015 will continue to evolve in 2016 and could be the next big opportunity for us and other public health leaders to do this. Together we should use our knowledge and experience of the relationship between health and fairness to help translate the feedback from these Conversations, into clear cut actions for change.

Beyond that, the Public Health Review will publish its final report to Ministers and I anticipate that in addressing issues of leadership, collaboration and workforce the Review will set out thinking on how to achieve the best mix of national and local delivery. I hope the Review will help us achieve a Public Health system that focusses on a balanced approach to addressing health inequalities; their fundamental causes; the environmental factors and how we deliver high quality services to support health improvement fastest for those whose health is poorest in Scotland. The implementation of the Reviews findings will provide a real opportunity for the Public Health Community in Scotland to step up to the plate and provide stronger and more consistent leadership as we see the further reform of public services set out in the Depute First Minister's budget statement last week.

And last but by no means least, we have the Scottish Parliament election in May. Health has always featured in our elections and this year is likely be no different in that respect. What will be interesting though is the prominence of social justice in the debate. As leaders in public health we should capitalise on this thirst for social justice and reiterate our call to action for a Fairer and Healthier Scotland.

So friends, with countless opportunities to make clear the link between a Fairer Scotland and a Healthier Scotland, let's make a Fairer Healthier Scotland our collective new year's resolution. I hope you will join us in making the most of the prospects this next year will bring and I look forward to seeing what we can achieve together.

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