GP boost must counter chronic disease says Wales' medical chief

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Media captionRural communities are finding it difficult to maintain services as in the past, says Dr Hussey

GP services across Wales must be boosted as more people suffer chronic disease, the chief medical officer warns in her annual report.

Around half of adults are being treated for a long-term conditions such as high blood pressure, mental illness, arthritis or diabetes, it said.

Dr Ruth Hussey said she wants communities to work with health boards to improve primary health care.

A warning of problems recruiting GPs as many near retirement is also included.

It is estimated that over 90% of all contact with the NHS in Wales is made through primary health care services, which include dentists and pharmacies and GP surgeries.

The report notes that these services face a particular challenge when it comes to staff.

  • GPs aged 55 or over make up nearly a quarter of the 2,000-strong workforce
  • There are increasing reports of vacancies in practice and poor response to recruitment initiatives
  • 10% of practices in Wales are single handed and will be particularly vulnerable if recruitment difficulties continue.

Dr Hussey argues the internet could play a larger role, with specialist advice delivered via email and Skype.

Increasing the availability of consultant services in the community and improving access to specialist advice for GPs are also priorities.

"Growing strong primary care services that better match people's needs locally is essential," she said.

The report also said that while the population of Wales continues to grow and live longer, it is also ageing. There are now more older people than children in Wales.

Junk food advertising

Heavy drinking and lack of exercise are still common though the number of people smoking has reduced, with a decrease in adult smoking to 21%.

Over a quarter of four to five-year-olds are overweight or obese, while 22% of adults are obese.

Dr Hussey argues there is evidence that a tax on sugary drinks would help tackle the problem.

She also recommends the Welsh government lobbies for a ban on all junk food advertising before the 9pm watershed, and at all times on internet "on demand" services.

Bringing together efforts to combat poverty and poor health is also essential, she said.

Life expectancy for those living in the most deprived parts of Wales is lower than for those in the least deprived areas and adults living in more disadvantaged areas are less likely to report good health, the report found.

Dr Hussey said: "My annual report is Wales' annual check-up, giving us a picture of our health and what we need to do to improve it.

"There is no escaping the fact that too many of us don't do enough to look after our health.

"We need to focus relentlessly on prevention, quality of health care and to bring closer together our efforts to reduce poor health and poverty."

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