Environmental health is essential for future prospects of Wales
Delegates attending this year’s CIEH Wales Annual Conference were told that environmental health has a significant role to play in the future prospects of Wales.
As we begin the countdown to the Welsh Assembly elections, representatives from the leading Welsh political parties, a previous Welsh Chief Medical Officer (CMO) and a former Minister, all emphasised that environmental health is a vital service that protects people and improves wellbeing.
But all the speakers admitted there are challenges for the profession in terms of funding and developments outside of Wales they cannot necessarily control, such as climate change.
Now in its tenth year, the ‘Public Health: Sustaining Communities’ conference took place in Cardiff between Wednesday 20 and Thursday 21 April and was attended by 150 people.
Jane Davidson, Associate Pro Vice-Chancellor and Director of INSPIRE, University of Wales, delivered the key note speech and as a former Welsh Government Minister, spoke about her experience of developing The Well-being of Future Generations (Wales) Act 2015.
Delegates were given a brief history of the movement to embed sustainable development into the activities of the Welsh Government as a “central organising principle” and for the first time, wellbeing featured as a key indicator of success.
The Act, which came into force on 1 April 2016, ensures that any decisions made towards improving wellbeing of Wales must ensure that present needs are met without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.
Enforced through the Welsh Audit Office and supported by a dedicated Commissioner, Jane Davidson said all tiers of Government are bound by Act and need to demonstrate they are complying.
Jane Davidson said that first assessment will be made in April 2017, with the first wellbeing plans to be implemented in April 2018 and the Act created a “huge opportunity for the CIEH and environmental health” to help achieve wellbeing and sustainable development in Wales.
Ruth Jones delivered the Brynley Jones Memorial Lecture and told the audience that we currently live in the fifth wave of public health practice, having shifted from just looking at illness to considering the wider impacts and determinants on health and wellbeing.
The former CMO said that while Wales performs well on health and wellbeing compared to the rest of the UK, challenges still remain. Life expectancy in Wales for example is improving but underneath the statistics, there will be a gradient dividing the rich from the poor.
In her last annual report as CMO, Ruth Jones said that Wales needed to have a robust environmental health service. At the conference, the former CMO reiterated this statement and called for a clear integrated system to protect health and wellbeing, rather than good organisations working on their own in silos.
Over the two-day conference, delegates were given the opportunity to attend parallel sessions on a variety of topics from housing and food fraud to enforcement tactics and noise levels in Cardiff.
The conference culminated in a Question Time panel debate, which was attended by representatives from Labour, Plaid Cyrmru, Liberal Democrats, Green Party and the Conservatives. UKIP were invited but did not attend on the day.
Julie Barratt, Director of CIEH Wales, said: “This year’s conference was one of the best ones yet. We had great key-note speakers, a passionate Question Time debate where the political representatives were certainly put through their paces and some fascinating parallel sessions. I’m particularly proud of Samantha Page, one of my students, who gave an interesting presentation on noise levels in Cardiff.
“The Environmental Health workforce in Wales has taken a huge hit in numbers and funding over the past few years. But the message that was loud and clear is that environmental health services and those that deliver it have a vital role to play in the future health and wellbeing of everyone in Wales.”