The British Medical Association today (4 November 2004) calls on Health Secretary John Reid to deliver tough action to protect the nation's health, as he finalises the White Paper on Public Health for England.
Dr Vivienne Nathanson, head of Science and Ethics at the BMA, said: "Obesity, sexual transmitted infections, alcohol abuse and smoking-related illness are all soaring. The Government must act now to turn around the UK's declining standards of health, and safeguard the well being of future generations."
The BMA has outlined a prescription for public health ? key areas which it says must be addressed in the White Paper:
The Government must ban smoking in the workplace ? and all enclosed public places. There is indisputable evidence that smoking and passive smoking kill. Yet in the UK more than three million workers are regularly exposed to secondary environmental tobacco smoke in the workplace.
The Government must meet its own target of ensuring access to sexual health services within 48 hours. Sexual health must be added to the key performance goals of primary care organisations, and sexual health (Genito Urinary Medicine ? GUM) clinics must be expanded and resourced. Statistics show that the UK is in the middle of a sexual health crisis, with rates of chlamydia, HIV, gonorrhoea and other sexually transmitted infections rising steeply. Yet many people wait weeks for appointments at GUM clinics. Sexual health has become the cinderella service of the NHS ? with a woeful lack of GUM clinics, many in a state of disrepair.
The BMA calls for a complete ban on alcohol advertising, and clear labelling of alcoholic drinks to show the number of units they contain. People in the UK have amongst the highest levels of alcohol abuse and binge drinking in Europe, and doctors are now seeing unprecedented levels of liver disease among young people.
Obesity and nutrition
The BMA supports the campaign for a children's food bill, and for schools to take action to promote healthy diets. The Government must also take action to ensure informative food labelling. Rates of obesity ? particularly amongst the nation's youth ? are of serious concern. Obesity is related to the development of a host of illnesses including diabetes, heart disease and certain cancers. Poor eating habits learnt in childhood tend to spread into adulthood.
The BMA calls for playing fields and recreational facilities to be preserved and developed, and schools should be required to incorporate physical exercise for a minimum of 2-3 hours per week. Lack of exercise is also contributing to rising levels of obesity and other health problems. Safe cycling networks should be encouraged, and the Government should legislate for the compulsory wearing of cycle helmets.
The BMA believes that public health should be a Cabinet level responsibility, separate from the Secretary of State for Health. This role should explicitly recognise that public health needs joined-up government and action across many areas. If a public health strategy is to work, a cabinet level minister must be empowered to ensure health is at the centre of all policies concerned with social development.
The BMA's prescription for public health has been sent to Health Secretary John Reid and Public Health Minister Melanie Johnson.