Page last updated at 06:52 GMT, Wednesday, 9 December 2009

Heart attacks fall after smoking ban, report says

A smoker
Smoking still costs the NHS 127 for each person, the report says

The number of people suffering heart attacks has reduced since the smoking ban in Wales began, a report by the chief medical officer has found.

But in his annual report, Dr Tony Jewell said smoking still cost the NHS £127 for each person and binge drinking and obesity also need tackling.

He said NHS cash was best spent on avoiding chronic diseases developing.

Figures also showed fewer children were being injured by cars, with Wales three years ahead of a target reduction.

The number of suicides had also fallen.

Dr Jewell's annual report Preventing the Preventable pointed to statistics which showed the number of hospital admissions for heart attacks in 2007/2008 had fallen by 3.7% on the previous year, down from 4,324 to 4,164.

He said although the decline could not be wholly attributed to the smoking ban, some studies suggested at least some of the reduction was due to the ban on smoking in public places, which was brought in in April 2007.

Money would be better spent on trying to promote health and prevent people getting chronically ill in the first place
Dr Tony Jewell

He said research for the Welsh Assembly Government found "clear evidence" of a reduction in exposure to smoking environments, while it was "encouraging" smoking had not shifted to the home or increased exposure to children.

Among other successes for the year was a reduction in the number of children under 14 being knocked down and injured in car incidents, meaning a target of no more than 392 injuries per year by 2012 had already been achieved.

The number of deaths from strokes in 65 to 74-year-olds also fell, with targets for 2012 again surpassed. The current rate is 122 per 100,000 people.

Suicide rates across all age groups have also fallen.

Dr Jewell wants more attention in healthcare placed on immunisation, screening and education.

Need to focus on preventing ill-health through immunisations, screening and education
Tackle obesity, binge-drinking and smoking
Address health inequalities, particularly in time of recession
Use familiar settings like GP surgeries to give advice
Learn from global solutions to climate change and poverty to protect health

Dr Jewell said: "With the increase of chronic conditions in an ageing society in Wales, money would be better spent on trying to promote health and prevent people getting chronically ill in the first place rather than being forced to spend increasing amounts on treatment.

"A broad estimate suggests that around £94 per Welsh citizen is spent per year on prevention activities - that's only around five per cent of the Welsh health budget - while the cost of smoking alone to the NHS is £127 per citizen a year.

"We need to educate and empower people to make healthy lifestyle choices. It is as much the responsibility of society as a whole to help improve people's health as it is that of the NHS. We need to make healthy choices the easy choices."

He said more focus was needed in looking at risk factors, with GPs becoming as interested in patients who don't attend check-ups, as well as those who do.

'Keep up good work'

Dr Jewell also pointed to the financial crisis of 2008 as an "ongoing threat" to people's health when combined with long-lasting deprivation.

Health Minister Edwina Hart said the restructuring of the NHS in Wales had been designed to shift the balance of care from hospitals to primary and community based settings.

Chris Mulholland from the British Lung Foundation Wales said they had "to keep up the good work" done encouraging people not to smoke and to take exercise.

He also called for better rehabilitation services to prevent unnecessary hospital admissions.

Click here to read Michael Blastland's view

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