A whole system shift towards preventative services is needed to tackle Wales’ major health challenges and help reduce demand on the NHS in the future, according to the Welsh NHS Confederation.
The membership organisation says public bodies need to work together and be supported to increase the focus on and invest in services which will help encourage people to make healthier lifestyle choices.
It comes as a survey of more than 1,000 Welsh adults, commissioned by the Welsh NHS Confederation, revealed that many people recognise their own responsibility for their health and wellbeing and that they should be taking more action around this.
The results show that 91% agreed they have a great deal or a fair amount of personal responsibility for their health and wellbeing, compared to just 5% who said they did not believe they have very much or none at all.
In terms of taking action to improve their health, more than half (55%) said they should be doing more.
When asked what they thought would best help people to live healthier lives, 39% supported school education programmes, 39% said stricter controls on sugar, fat and salt in the food industry, 37% said access to fitness activities or classes and 22% said more local community activities.
Nearly seven in ten (69%) said they would be likely to change their own diet, while 47% said they would be likely to attend fitness classes if easier or cheaper.
It also found that, when asked about prioritising budgets in the NHS, preventative services featured in the top four, with 30% listing it after emergency medical services (42%), access to GP services (40%) and shorter waiting times (31%).
The results of the survey are being published for the Welsh NHS Confederation’s Conference, ‘Shifting the Balance’, which takes place at Cardiff City Hall today.
A key aspect of discussions at today’s event will be around the challenges faced by the health service and what is needed to make the shift into preventative services.
According the latest Welsh Health Survey, around one in five smoke, four in ten drink above the guidelines and nearly six in ten are classified as overweight or obese.
Unhealthy lifestyles have a significant impact on the NHS, with obesity, smoking and alcohol costing millions each year.
Vanessa Young, Director of the Welsh NHS Confederation, said: “The future success of the NHS relies on us all taking a proactive approach to public health and ensuring that we create the right conditions to support people to live active and healthy lifestyles.
“This survey provides some really encouraging results around people recognising their role in taking responsibility for their own health and wellbeing and the need to do more to look after themselves.
“We know that behaviours such as drinking, smoking and lack of exercise are not only bad for people’s health and wellbeing but also have an impact on health and care services, which are already struggling to meet levels of demand.
“It’s therefore vital that we harness people’s understanding and willingness to take action. We can only do this through a whole system shift across sectors. Therefore all public bodies need an increased focus on crucial preventative policies, such as improving access to early intervention services and greater promotion of healthy eating and physical activity in schools and workplaces.
“This isn’t an easy challenge, which is why today’s Conference is about shifting the balance, looking at how we go about building more preventative services within people’s communities.”
The results also revealed who the respondents believed is responsible for looking after older people, with 29% saying family members, 16% saying social services, 14% saying the Welsh Government and 11% saying the NHS.
When asked about their priorities when being treated in hospital, 53% said quality of care, 44% said how long you have to wait for treatment and 31% said care, dignity and respect.
Ms Young said: “Quality of care and patient dignity and respect has always been at the heart of NHS Wales – something that was recognised by the recent OECD report.
“Our members are committed to providing high quality services and will continue to make improvements so patients receive the standard of care that they deserve."