Mark Drakeford, Minister for Health and Social Services
Tackling health inequalities is a highly complex challenge which requires action across different sectors and policy areas, and at both national and local levels. I have made clear my commitment to tackling this issue as such inequalities are unjust, unfair and unacceptable. The range of outcomes and actions set out in our Programme for Government, and in Fairer Health Outcomes for All, demonstrate the priority and cross-cutting nature of that commitment.
Action to address health inequalities is inextricably linked to a number of the Welsh Government’s overall priorities. In particular, the range of actions being taken forward through our Tackling Poverty Action Plan make a crucial contribution. Action is also embedded across various strategic programmes and policies.
Of course, the challenge of reducing health inequalities is by no means unique to Wales. The issue is just as important in other countries. One key part of our efforts in tackling health inequalities in Wales is in learning from the experiences of others, and also in sharing what we are doing with our partners. One way in which we have had the opportunity to discuss ideas is through being an active participant and a national partner in Equity Action, the EU funded Joint Action on Health Inequalities (2011-2014).
I was delighted to represent the UK at the final conference of Equity Action in Brussels on 23 January. The conference provided an important opportunity to assess progress on addressing health inequalities in the EU, as well as to consider opportunities and priorities for future action. It was attended by over 500 delegates from across the Member States.
As well as speaking at the conference on behalf of the UK, as the lead member state, I took part in a Ministerial Panel session with Ministers from Spain, Belgium, Greece (on behalf of the Presidency), Lithuania, Finland and Ireland. This was an excellent opportunity to discuss different approaches to tackling health inequalities as well as to explore the barriers and opportunities for future action.
At the conference I also had the opportunity to meet with a number of leading experts in the field. I was pleased to meet Sir Michael Marmot, Chair of the World Health Organisation Commission on Social Determinants of Health and an international expert on health inequalities and their causes. Marmot’s work has highlighted a number of important principles which inform our approach in Wales, particularly the link between poverty and ill health and the importance of giving every child the best start in life. Such principles are reflected in action both in my own portfolio as well as in other portfolios such as the Flying Start programme.
During my time at the conference I also met the UK Deputy Permanent Representative to the European Union, Shan Morgan and discussed a range of developments at the European level. I also met a group of health researchers from Welsh universities who were in Brussels to explore potential funding from the EU research programme Horizon 2020.
Equity Action was a pan-European project which aimed to identify good practice, share learning and develop a multi-level approach to tackling health inequalities. I am pleased that our participation involved both the Minister for Housing and Regeneration’s portfolio, as well as my own, in addition to joint-working with Cwm Taf and Aneurin Bevan Health Boards.
Participating in the Equity Action programme was an excellent opportunity to learn and share knowledge across EU Member States. My attendance at this important conference has reaffirmed my determination to make progress on tackling health inequalities in Wales. The programme was extremely valuable in raising the profile of inequalities at European level. I am keen that we use the learning from our participation in the programme and maintain an awareness of the latest evidence and good practice, as well as build on its achievements with other UK and EU Member State partners.
I will ensure that Members are kept informed of any future action following the completion of Equity Action.