Public Health Scotland’s chief executive, Paul Johnston, has voiced concern over the worsening health statistics in Scotland, despite past progress. Johnston advocates for a preventative approach given the growing burden of disease from an aging populace. His comments were made in an article for Reform Scotland, a leading think tank in the country.

The steady climb in Scottish life expectancy rates came to a halt between 2014 and 2016, with recent data indicating a reversal in this trend. Johnston cautions that this growing health challenge cannot be handled by the National Health Service (NHS) alone. He emphasised that health is beholden to various factors, including poverty and its consequences, job availability and quality, access to high-grade education and early childhood care, affordable housing, climate change mitigation measures, and anti-racism initiatives.

Johnston added: “Currently, people in Scotland have lower life expectancies compared to other Western European nations. Furthermore, these individuals now spend more of their lives in ill health. The life expectancy gap between the country’s poorest and richest continues to grow. Despite significant progress made previously, it appears that Scotland’s health landscape is deteriorating. We must exhibit courage and determination in confronting these health challenges.

“The urgency to ramp up preventative measures is becoming apparent. It is crucial that we seize these opportunities, especially in the process of updating our public services,” he added.

Chris Deerin, Director of Reform Scotland, noted: “This is an insightful intervention by Johnston. It doesn’t fantasise about the current health crisis but embraces it head-on. It brings the focus on prevention in terms of population health and public expenditure. The acknowledgement that Scots now die younger than their counterparts in other Western European countries and that the life expectancy gap between the rich and the poor is widening calls for immediate action from our political leaders.”

Scottish Lib Dem leader and health spokesperson, Alex Cole-Hamilton MSP, expressed concern over the adequacy of the so-called NHS Recovery Plan of Humza Yousaf, Scottish Cabinet Health Secretary. He said: “The current Scottish Government lacks the vision and resources needed to address the pressure on our NHS.”

Scottish Labour health spokesman, Jackie Baillie, also commented on the health crisis in Glasgow and throughout Scotland, terming it as a national disgrace. She blamed it on economic turmoil propagated by the Tories and the SNP government’s ongoing neglect of the NHS.

In response, the Scottish Government highlighted the impact of austerity measures, the pandemic, and cost crises on the gradual decline in health outcomes over the last decade. They stated: “We are utilising all available powers and resources to combat poverty, decrease inequality, prolong healthy life expectancy, and nurture a fairer Scotland.”

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