Scotland’s public health priorities

(Except from Forward)

In a vibrant, modern Scotland it should be possible for everyone to be as healthy as they can be. It should be the case that the social, economic and physical environments we live in help create health and wellbeing, and that local communities and public services make it possible for individuals to take positive decisions about their own health and feel supported to do so.

Unfortunately, for too many people in Scotland and in too many places, this is not the case. As a nation, our overall health is unacceptably poor in comparison to other Western European countries. Many people living in our most deprived communities still experience poorer health than those living in our wealthier areas.

Life expectancy in Scotland is a success story because we are living longer than ever before. But life expectancy, and our healthy life expectancy – the years we live in good health – varies significantly across Scotland. This variation has a huge impact on individuals, on communities and on Scotland as a whole. This variation is unacceptable.

We want Scotland to be a place where everybody thrives. We want to reset how Scotland thinks about wellbeing and health. Wellbeing cannot be created and sustained by the NHS alone.

High quality and equitable healthcare and health protection services are vital in improving and maintaining health, addressing health inequalities and protecting us from communicable and environmental threats. But it’s not primarily in our hospitals or our GP surgeries that health is first created. It is in our homes and our communities, in the places we live and through the lives we lead. These are the places where we must work to make it easier for people to be healthy. The efforts of society as a whole must increasingly turn towards supporting this sort of ‘wellbeing creation’.

These public health priorities represent an important milestone. They represent agreement between the Scottish Government and Local Government about the importance of focusing our efforts to improve the health of the population. The priorities connect strongly to, and will help accelerate, our wider work and include local strategic planning and partnership activity; the refreshed National Performance Framework and related National Outcomes; our Digital Health and Care Strategy, and forthcoming public health policies to be published in the coming weeks and months, and our efforts towards sustainable economic growth. This document also sets out how we will work together and with other parts of the system to achieve this change (our reform principles).

And these priorities are not just for our public health professionals. This document is intended to be a foundation for the whole system, for public services, third sector, community organisations and others, to work better together to improve Scotland’s health, and to empower people and communities. It is a starting point for new preventative approaches, and a new awareness around wellbeing, that will develop and strengthen in the coming years.