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Changing environment is key threat to public health, says Wales chief medical officer

He has vowed to improve health protection from infections and environmental threats.
30 May 2019 , Katie Coyne

The chief medical officer of Wales has vowed to improve health protection from infections and environmental threats.

In Frank Atherton’s third annual report, Valuing our health, he warned of a range of health protection threats and harms including the changing environment, antibiotic overuse and resistance, acquired infections, anti-vaccination campaigns and imported high-consequence infections.

Atherton also highlighted how health security has become a greater public health priority, whether from chemicals, radiation, nuclear or other environmental effects including climate change.

He also pointed out that service demands continue to increase year on year. In 2017–18, for example, Public Health Wales’ Environmental Public Health Team responded to 500 separate requests for advice and support from partner agencies. These included 274 incidents, 90 environmental health enquiries and 129 land-use planning/environmental permit consultations.

He argued that it is necessary to continue to invest in health protection services and infrastructure to 'ensure we remain resilient to the threats we face'.

On harm air pollution poses, Atherton called for improved air quality and health surveillance capabilities and risk assessment methodologies. He said that public health must be embedded in transport, planning and environmental sustainability policy and practice.

In his introduction he said: “We live in an inter-connected world and recent events such as the rise in cases of measles across Europe, new and importable diseases such as ebola and monkeypox and the use of chemical agents all serve to remind us that we ignore health protection arrangements at our peril.

“I will be looking further at ways in which we need to strengthen this aspect of our public health system.”

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