DEPARTMENT OF HEALTH
News Release issued by The Government News Network on 14 July 2008
New focus on
tackling the health of the teenage nation
The Chief Medical Officer, Sir Liam Donaldson, today published
his 2007 Annual Report, in which he called for a new focus on
teenage health. The report, which reviews key health problems and
developments over the last year, highlighted the unique health
needs of teenagers.
The teenage years are a risk taking period of life, closely tied
to the rite of passage into adulthood. Although the majority of
teenagers cope well, large numbers of teens take part in high risk
behaviours such as binge drinking, drug taking and unsafe sex.
There are also teenagers living with chronic illnesses.
Sir Liam's report urged health services to take better
account of the specific health needs of young people and sets out
Top Ten Tips for teenagers..
He also called for:
- A national summit to take stock of health programmes and
services for teenagers.
- More involvement of teenagers in the design of health services
- A young person's panel to be established to advise on
national campaigns addressing risk taking in teenage years.
- The legal blood alcohol level limit for drivers aged between 17
and 20 years to be reduced to zero.
Speaking at the launch of his 2007 Annual Report, On the State of
Public Health, Sir Liam said:
"Adolescence can be a challenging time. It is a period in
which teenagers encounter risks and make hard choices. Young
people are exposed to behaviours, opportunities and products that
have the capacity to harm their health in the short and long term.
In this Report I concentrate on the 'Big Six': smoking,
alcohol and drugs, accidents and violence, diet, physical activity
and sexual health.
"Habits adopted in the teenage years can form behaviour for
a lifetime. For example, adolescent binge drinkers are twice as
likely as their peers to be dependent on alcohol or taking illicit
drugs by the time they reach 30 years, while someone who starts to
smoke aged 15 years is three times more likely to die of
smoking-related cancer than someone who starts smoking in their
20s. The effects of poor health in adolescence can last a
lifetime, and even shorten it. Keeping teenagers well is a
valuable investment for the health of the population in the future."
Sir Liam Donaldson is the Chief Medical Officer for England and
the United Kingdom Government's principal medical adviser. He
has held the post for nearly 10 years. His previous Annual Reports
have called for action on key public health issues such as
smoke-free public places (2002 and 2003 reports), the obesity
'time bomb' (2002 report) and an 'opt-out'
system for organ donation (2006 report).
Understanding the rise in oesophageal cancer
This year's Report also draws attention to the rising levels
of oesophageal cancer, which is the sixth most common cause of
cancer deaths in England and Wales and kills 6,000 people a year.
England has some of the highest rates of oesophageal cancer in
Europe. Over the last 20 years, the rate of new cases in England
has gone up by 86% for men and 40% for women, whereas the rate has
sharply decreased in other European countries, such as France. The
reasons for this are unknown.
In his Report Sir Liam calls for:
- A large scale national research study to investigate the risk
factors associated with the rising rate of cancer of the oesophagus.
- Better educational programmes to improve public awareness of
- Research into better diagnostic techniques.
- The Chief Medical Officer to issue a public alert in
circumstances where there is an unexplained increase of a serious disease.
Sir Liam said:
"As rates of many cancers in England are decreasing,
oesophageal cancer is bucking the trend and going the wrong way.
Levels of oesophageal cancer in England are amongst the worst in
Europe, and whilst some other nations' rates are falling,
ours are getting worse. Despite this worrying trend, not enough is
known about why this is happening.
"If this disease is to be controlled and the trend reversed,
it is vital that more is done to understand the complicated mix of
factors that cause it, and the public are better informed about
what to look out for."
Creating vaccines for the future
Vaccination has been a cornerstone of public health for the last
200 years. In this year's Annual Report, Sir Liam has
highlighted work currently underway to develop new vaccines for a
number of diseases, including C. difficile, MRSA and influenza. A
vaccine for C. difficile is possible within three years, and a
vaccine for MRSA within 10 years. A wider spectrum influenza
vaccine could combat the threat of a pandemic of 'flu. The
report also describes potential vaccines for chronic diseases,
including type 1 diabetes.
Sir Liam said:
"Vaccination is arguably the most important public health
development in the history of humankind. Over the last 200 years
it has saved hundreds of millions of lives worldwide. The
continuing work to develop new vaccines and potentially save more
lives in the future is a testament to the work of Edward Jenner
two centuries ago. New vaccines could not just prevent infectious
diseases, but could also prevent or treat some cancers and other
Making surgery safer
Surgery is generally very safe but has many inherent risks that
are not always fully appreciated. The report highlights the nature
of some of these risks and presents new data showing the National
Patient Safety Agency received 129,416 reports of potential errors
involving surgical procedures during 2007. Most errors do not
result in harm or the risk is averted. Sir Liam also highlights 14
cases of burr holes being drilled on the wrong side of the head
during brain surgery in the last three years.
He argues that more attention needs to be given to reducing the
impact of errors in surgery and suggests a number of measures including:
- The establishment of a clinical board for surgical safety.
- Routine use of the World Health Organization's Surgical
Safety Checklist before, during and after the operation.
- More use of risk scores to estimate the risk to patients before
- Regular collection and analysis of death rates 30 days after
operations, which should be made available to the public.
Sir Liam said:
"Surgery for patients in this country is generally very
safe, but we can and should make it even safer. Errors do still
occur. Further improvements will need a more detailed
understanding of how often errors occur, a change in culture and
the use of innovative new tools, such as surgical checklists."
Achieving racial equality in medicine
Also examined is the issue of racism in medicine. Historically,
ethnic minority doctors have suffered notable discrimination when
applying to medical school and throughout their careers. The
report uses data from a number of sources to examine the current
situation. In recent years there has been improvement, but
concerns remain. The report presents evidence that doctors born
outside the United Kingdom (particularly in Africa) but working
here have higher mortality rates than their United-Kingdom born
counterparts. It also shows evidence that doctors from ethnic
minorities are living in the more deprived areas of the country.
Sir Liam calls for a series of measures to combat these remaining
- The establishment of a mentoring scheme for ethnic minority doctors.
- Better training on equality and race awareness issues for
- More support for doctors raising concerns about racial discrimination.
Sir Liam said:
Examining the relationship between ethnicity and doctors is
complex. Whilst many institutional barriers have been removed and
much has improved, there are still areas that cause concern.
Addressing these issues will require cultural and behavioural change."
Notes to editors
1. Professor Sir Liam Donaldson is the Chief Medical Officer for
England. His 2007 Annual Report can be found at http://www.dh.gov.uk/cmo