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Last Updated: Tuesday, 20 November 2007, 14:59 GMT
Action call to bridge health gap
Dr Harry Burns, Chief Medical Officer
Dr Burns said the country's health was improving
More action must be taken to narrow the health gap between rich and poor areas, according to Scotland's top doctor.

The chief medical officer's annual report said the health of Scots was not improving fast enough in the poorest sections of society.

Dr Harry Burns has called for more support and early intervention to improve the health of children.

His report coincided with a new study which said the NHS was failing patients in poor areas.

Researchers at Glasgow University looked at 26 GP practices across the west of Scotland, questioning more than 3,000 patients and their doctors.

They found those living in deprived communities often had a greater number of psychological problems, more long-term illnesses and a wider variety of chronic health problems.

Consultations with GPs in poor areas were also shorter than in affluent ones, and doctors reported being under greater stress.

We can not disguise the fact that things are not improving fast enough for the poorest sections of our society
Dr Harry Burns
Chief medical officer

The findings appear to mirror the conclusions of the chief medical officer.

In his second annual report, Dr Burns praised the "innovative" methods being used to improve the nation's health but said not enough progress was being made in the poorest communities.

He said: "Scotland has lived for too long with the label of being the Sick Man of Europe and the past year has seen developments of great importance in public health.

"Although the health of all sections of the community in Scotland is improving we can not disguise the fact that it is not improving fast enough for the poorest sections of our society."

Dr Burns called for more support for young mothers in deprived areas who are dealing with issues such as poverty, depression and alcohol and drug misuse.

His report highlighted evidence from the United States and New Zealand which showed the importance of early intervention and the relationship between mother and baby.

He said: "A number of initiatives identified in this report have shown that investment and support of expectant mothers, their infants and young children can make a real difference to their future life and health prospects."

The report stated that 23% of children in Scotland live in relative poverty, while 13% live in absolute poverty.

The report called for more support for expectant mothers

It also said that an estimated 41,000 to 59,000 youngsters have a parent who has a drug problem and about 70,000 have a parent with a drink problem.

Tom Roberts, from the charity Children 1st, welcomed the report's emphasis on early years and parenting.

He said: "The Scottish Government has already made positive comments about the importance of early years.

"However, the impact of poverty, including poor housing and health, combined with gaps in support services - particularly for teenage children and their families - mean there are many challenges ahead."

Scotland's most senior doctor also used his report to praise the smoking ban, which he said had sent a powerful message to Scots, and other countries, about healthy lifestyles.

He highlighted a fall in the number of young people who smoke.

In 1996, 30% of 15-year-olds reported that they smoked regularly. In 2006 this figure was down to 12% for boys and 18% for girls.

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06 Nov 06 |  Scotland


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