Wales

North Wales child 'health inequalities' worry - report

Sleeping baby
Image caption 'Prioritisation of community child health services is vital,' says Andrew Jones, public health official

The contrast between the health of babies born in poor and more affluent areas of north Wales has been branded as "unacceptable" by a public health chief.

A report from Betsi Cadwaladr University Health Board (BCUHB) shows people born in deprived parts of Rhyl can expect to die seven years earlier than those in areas like nearby Conwy.

It also shows a "stark" variation in the number of babies born with low birth weights, linked to poverty.

The report author is calling for action to end the "health inequalities" to create a "fairer society".

Rates of stillbirth, admissions to neonatal units, infant and child mortality, injuries and teenage pregnancy are higher in areas with high levels of deprivation, according to Andrew Jones.

He is the executive director of public health for Betsi Cadwaladr University Health Board (BCUHB) which manages the region's health services.

He says the annual report focuses on the early years because scientific evidence shows influencing the development of children to maximise their health is most effective when done as early as possible.

'Vital'

"There is also a strong economic case as return on investment in the early years is higher than at any other stage," he says.

Mr Jones says current financial challenges highlight the importance of using resources wisely.

"Whilst there is a risk that we may wish to focus on the short term, the simple fact is that we cannot afford to ignore the evidence and the opportunity to improve health outcomes now and into the future," he said.

His report highlights 11 key areas to reduce the "inequity" across the region.

These include:

  • More support for vulnerable families
  • Reduce smoking in pregnancy
  • Reduce maternal obesity.

While the percentage of babies born with low birth weight in north Wales is slightly lower (5.5%) than the average for Wales (5.8%), the report says there is "considerable variation" across the region and a "stark geographical variation".

The highest percentage of low birth weights in north Wales is in Rhyl south west in Denbighshire, at 8.2%, compared to the lowest, 2.9%, found in Llandrillo yn Rhos, Conwy.

"Giving every child the best start in life is the highest priority," says Mr Jones.

"This is the key to reducing health inequalities and creating a fairer society. Prioritisation of community child health services is vital."

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