Wales

Bad health 'costs Welsh economy billions'

Breathing Image copyright Thinkstock
Image caption Prevention of poor health was the priority

Poor health and poverty is costing billions of pounds and threatens Wales' economic sustainability, a new report by Public Health Wales has warned.

It estimated mental ill health alone costs Welsh society £7.2bn a year.

Air pollution and alcohol misuse were each estimated at costing the economy £1bn a year.

The report said urgent changes were needed to deal with the "significant" health challenges facing Wales.

Called Making A Difference, it outlined 10 key "areas for action" - including making sure children get the best start in life, reducing smoking and drinking rates, narrowing the gap between rich and poor and making sure people live in a safe and healthy environment.

These would not only help reduce ill health and tackle poverty but also save the taxpayer and businesses many billions of pounds, it added.

Poor health and poverty in Wales

Making A Difference report estimates

  • £7.2bn mental health

  • £1bn alcohol misuse

  • £1bn air pollution

  • £1.9bn lost productivity from social inequality

  • £791m smoking

  • £314m conditions from lack of physical activity

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Social inequality cost £1.9bn in lost productivity and £1.1bn-£1.8bn in welfare payments and lost taxes.

Smoking was estimated to cost £791m and the cost of treating conditions due to physical inactivity another £314m

But at a time of austerity, the report warned measures that deliver "value for money" needed to be prioritised and attention concentrated on prevention instead of the treatment of ill health.

Some examples of savings outlined include:

  • For every £1 spent on anti-bullying schemes in schools, taxpayers could expect to get £15 back
  • Improving mental health in the workplace could produce annual savings of £250,607 for an organisation with 1,000 employees.
  • Every £1 spent in primary care on efforts to change the behaviour of alcohol-dependent people would return £5 in reduced health, social care and criminal justice costs.
  • For every £1 spent on targeted flu vaccination - £1.35 would be returned.
  • Increasing cycling and walking in urban areas could save NHS Wales £0.9bn over 20 years.

Tracey Cooper, chief executive of Public Health Wales, said: "This is a landmark report that comes at an important time for Wales.

"It clearly identifies the 10 most important areas for preventing poor health and improving wellbeing across all aspects of life, and what we need to do to enable this.

"It has also been written to help shape policy in these critical areas and outlines what the return on investing in prevention is for our citizens, society and the economy."

Public health minister Rebecca Evans said the Welsh Government would consider the "timely report" and would "continue to prioritise efforts in this area".

Ms Evans added: "Prevention remains a priority in Wales, and we are already adopting many of the approaches advocated in this report.

"Our collective efforts are beginning to bear fruit in a number of areas, including smoking. The recently published Welsh Health Survey shows the percentage of adults smoking in Wales is now at a record low."

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