John Gillies: 'Health inequalities have to be addressed'

IT DOES not come as a surprise to see deprived areas such as Greater Glasgow and Clyde with some of the worst life-expectancy figures.

Deprived areas such as these are characterised by poor health and early death.

Life expectancy is just one of the ways of measuring and recognising areas of poor health. The big question is how we tackle it.

Of course, it's good news that overall life expectancy has increased across most areas of Scotland, but it is also significant to see that the gap between the areas with the highest and lowest life expectancy has increased.

Severely deprived areas need specific solutions including:

n Longer GP appointment times to deal with the higher number of patients with more than one serious condition such as drug abuse, mental ill-health and heart disease combined.

n Minimum pricing per unit of alcohol to reduce the sale and consumption of cheap drink in harmful quantities. In 2007-8 a staggering 111,000 GP consultations were due to alcohol-related illness or injury.

n Better education and guidance in childhood to help prevent smoking, obesity and drug abuse as well as measures on food and tobacco advertising.

n An audit of NHS support services to make sure that they are available in the right areas and in adequate quantities.

With public funding under pressure, it is especially important that NHS resources are targeted where they are most needed.

It is a certainty that problems such as low life-expectancy will continue in Scotland if the issues of health inequalities are not addressed.

However, the positive news is that a lot of work has been done so far, including a project working with the Top 100 most deprived practices in Scotland, many of which are based in Glasgow.

The SNP has pledged to protect the health budget and will be revisiting the Alcohol Bill which includes measure on minimum pricing.

l Dr John Gillies is a GP in Selkirk, chairman of the RCGP Scotland and a training programme director for NHS Education Scotland.