Mark Drakeford announced as new Welsh Labour leader - what does this mean for child health in Wales?

After months of speculation, campaigning and voting, we now have the result of the Labour leadership contest in Wales. The top job has gone to a man who may not be a household name for RCPCH members so Gethin Matthews-Jones, RCPCH External Affairs Manager for Wales, blogs to answer two questions: who is Mark Drakeford and what does this mean for paediatrics and child health in Wales?

The first question is the easy one. Mark Drakeford is the Assembly Member for Cardiff West. He is also the Cabinet Secretary for Finance and was previously the Health Minister. He has also had an academic career and is a Professor of Social Policy. He is seen as being on the left of the Labour party and has been a supporter of Jeremy Corbyn.

The second question is more interesting. What does this mean for paediatrics and child health?

There’s a pretty big clue in his personal manifesto (PDF). The chapter on health is called A Healthier Wales, which is also the name of the Welsh Government’s long term strategy for health and social care. This suggests that a complete overhaul, scrapping all that came before, would seem unlikely.

The content of Mark’s manifesto bears this out. Unsurprisingly, he is committed to “ensuring that high quality care is at the heart of the Welsh health system” and investing “more money per person across health and social services in Wales than across our borders”, but adds that this must be “allied with a relentless focus on preventing and intervening earlier in long term conditions, and in promoting healthier, more active lifestyles”. This is very much in line with the vision set out in A Healthier Wales.

This focus on prevention applies for mental as well as physical health. He makes specific references to working with schools and education in relation to supporting children and young people to develop and maintain good mental health, something that many RCPCH members will likely welcome. I will certainly be keeping a close eye on progress here and keeping you updated.

He’s serious about government intervention to reduce illness. Among his more eye-grabbing proposals is to extend the smoking ban to “outdoor areas of cafes and restaurants and city and town centres”. RCPCH has long called for tighter restrictions on smoking, but this goes further than anything else currently on the table. In fact, I’m not aware of any countries in Europe where it is illegal to smoke in entire town and city centres. If you do, I’d love to hear from you!

He’s also proposed a Clean Air Act for Wales to tackle and air pollution and respiratory problems and to develop new walking routes to encourage people to get outdoors and take advantage of Wales’s stunning (I know I’m biased, but it really, really is) coastal path.

This could be big: the very sizable chunk of the Welsh economy that relies on public funding could have to do much more to promote good health

Many of these proposals will require action across government to implement, taking us even closer to a ‘health in all policies’ approach. Take the economy: Mark talks about the “extent to which many businesses belong in the ‘near-public’ sector, because without very significant sums of public money they would cease to trade” and proposes a “something-for-something relationship in which direct financial support for businesses is predicated on… promotion of health in the workplace”. If the logic of this is followed through, this could be big: the very sizable chunk of the Welsh economy that relies on public funding could have to do much more to promote good health. Could it mean, for example, insisting on a less obesogenic environment? Mandatory facilities to encourage cycling? A no smoking policy on all premises, including outdoor areas?

One final thing. I could hardly not mention Baby Bundles. Mark is committed to piloting ‘Baby Bundles’ of items and guidance for parents and babies as a ‘welcome to the world’ gift. I’ll look forward to speaking to RCPCH members to get your views on this!

If you'd like to get in touch with Gethin in the Wales office, please email or call 02920 504 212.