An NHS shifting the balance to move the needle | Vanessa Young

Vanessa Young

The head of the Welsh NHS Confederation takes a look at the opportunities and challenges facing the health and care system in Wales.

Today senior leaders, decision-makers, stakeholders and partners from every corner of the Welsh health and care system will come together under one roof as the Welsh NHS Confederation hosts its annual conference and exhibition.

This year’s theme is Shifting the balance, which reflects the direction of travel towards primary and community care, ill-health prevention and integration with non-NHS services. It also fits with the ambition to change the relationship between the health service and individuals, making them equal partners in their health and wellbeing.

We recognise such significant shifts in approach and culture are not easy when NHS Wales, along with other health systems, is being challenged by substantial demand and pressures associated with delivering care and treatment to a growing and ageing population with increasingly complex need. But we can no longer afford to continue as we are if we are to make sure we can deliver care and treatment in decades to come.

We have a great programme with brilliant speakers and workshops, which we believe will stimulate debate and ideas around how we go about achieving such a shift.

The conference comes at a key time for health in Wales, following the publication of the Welsh government’s Programme for government and the start of a parliamentary review of the long-term future of health and social care.

We have more people registered this year than in previous years and it’s fantastic that so many people want to contribute to discussions.

In line with the event, and to contribute to today’s conversations, we have published our annual survey, which provides some really interesting and positive findings about the public’s attitudes to their own health and wellbeing.

The research found that 91 per cent of respondents agreed they have a great deal or a fair amount of personal responsibility for their health and wellbeing, compared to just 5 per cent who said they did not believe they have very much or none at all.

In terms of taking action to improve their health, more than half said they should be doing more.

When asked about what they thought would best help people to live healthier lives, 39 per cent supported school education programmes, 39 per cent said stricter controls on sugar, fat and salt in the food industry, 37 per cent said access to fitness activities or classes and 22 per cent said more local community activities.

Nearly 70 per cent said they would be likely to change their own diet, while 47 per reported that they would be likely to attend fitness classes if easier or cheaper. 

When asked about prioritising budgets in the NHS, preventative services featured in the top four, with 30 per cent listing it after emergency medical services (42 per cent), access to GP services (40 per cent) and shorter waiting times (31 per cent).

The future success of the NHS relies on us all taking a proactive approach to public health and ensuring that we create the right conditions to support people to live active and healthy lifestyles. 

Achieving this won’t be without difficulties and it’s important to recognise the value of the workforce – staff across the NHS are working really hard to deliver what’s needed today. The desire among the workforce to make things better now and for the future is something to be incredibly proud of.

We want to build a system that is focused and resourced to keep people fit, well and happy, to reduce the demand on health and care services. All public bodies need an increased focus on crucial preventative policies, such as improving access to early intervention services and greater promotion of healthy eating and physical activity in schools and workplaces.

We know that behaviours such as drinking, smoking and lack of exercise are having an impact on people’s health and wellbeing and on health and care services, which are already struggling to meet levels of demand. We are therefore pleased to see recognition and support from the public around these topics. 

The central issue in resource terms is a need to work out how best to resource a modern health and care system fit for future generations – both in terms of money and people.

This isn’t an easy challenge while trying to manage the pressures that already exist. Change is never simple, which is why today’s conference is so important. It’s a chance to step away from the office for the day, come together and focus on ideas and solutions for how we go about building more preventative services within people’s communities and deliver the care and treatment they’ll need in the future.

Vanessa Young is director of the Welsh NHS Confederation. Follow her and the organisation on Twitter @NessYoungConfed @WelshConfed

The Welsh NHS Confederation’s conference, Shifting the Balance, takes place today at Cardiff City Hall.

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