Health Inequalities in Scotland: The State of the Nation

Twenty-five years on from devolution, our health and social care system is failing us. People in Scotland now die younger than in any other Western European country and the gap in life expectancy between the poorest and the wealthiest is growing.


Holyrood’s inaugural Health Inequalities in Scotland: The State of the Nation summit will bring together Scotland’s leading public health voices from the public, private and third sectors to share innovation, make connections and explore the practical steps that can be taken to inspire change and turn the tide.   


Over the course of the day, sessions will:


  • Explore initiatives that have been successful in tackling health inequalities;
  • Discuss solutions to specific challenges such as smoking and obesity; and
  • Consider the roles that different sectors such as life sciences, can and are playing. 


The event concludes with a high profile cross-party political panel chaired by Holyrood Magazine’s Editor, Mandy Rhodes, exploring what 25 years of devolution has done for Scotland’s health and social care system.

In March 2024, figures published by Police Scotland showed that during 2023 there were 1,197 suspected drug deaths in Scotland – a 10% increase on 2022. 


In this session we will reflect on why these figures are so high, looking at the impact of both drug-specific policy and wider government policy. Panellists will discuss what steps need to be taken to ensure significant, consistent progress is made in reducing drug related deaths, particularly in regards to: 


- Improving access to appropriate, timely treatment and recovery services

- Challenging the stigma associated with problematic substance use

- Preventing people from developing problem drug use

Eleven years ago, the Scottish Government launched its tobacco control strategy, which aimed to make Scotland tobacco-free by 2034. Despite several interventions since then, the Scottish Government stated in their 2023 Tobacco and vaping framework: roadmap to 2034 that it is likely this target will be missed if current trends continue.  


The framework also echoed the concerns of many stakeholders about the number of young people and adult non-smokers using vapes.  


Here, we will look at what steps need to be taken over the next decade to: 

- Prevent children and young people from taking up smoking and vaping, including potential restrictions on the advertising and promotion of vaping products - Enable those who use such products to quit, with appropriate support

Poverty is the single biggest driver of poor mental health and in recent years, events such as the COVID-19 pandemic and cost-of-living crisis have only worsened the situation before us.  


This panel will focus on the action that needs to be taken to improve the mental health and wellbeing of certain groups within society, particularly in regards to prevention, early intervention, and access to care and treatment.

Alcohol-specific deaths have risen since 2012, with 1,276 people losing their lives to conditions caused by alcohol in 2022 – the highest number since 2008. While policies such as Minimum Unit Pricing – which is due to increase from 50p to 65p in September 2024 – have led to a reduction in alcohol related deaths and hospital admissions, it is clear that further action is required. 


With this in mind, our panel will focus on how access to support and treatment can be improved and the role of preventative measures, specifically around youth education and pricing and promotion.

More than two-thirds of adults in Scotland are overweight or obese and a third of children are at risk of becoming so. Despite Scottish Government ambitions to halve childhood obesity by 2030, figures suggest we are, in fact, moving in the wrong direction.


So with the links between obesity and serious health conditions - such as cancer, type 2 diabetes and heart disease – well known, how can we turn the tide and reduce rates of obesity across all age groups?


This session will look to answer this, with consideration given to how we can support people to develop healthy lifestyles and reduce consumption of food and drink which is high in fat, salt and sugar.

Bringing delegates back together in the main room, our panel will debate:


- Whether people need to change their expectations of the health and social care system, if we are to successfully address the challenges we face


- If we need clearer targets and better mechanisms for accountability


- How we can move towards longer term planning


- The importance of leadership and partnership working



Ahead of the Scottish Parliamentary election in 2026, our final session will see representatives from the main parties discuss how we can reduce the inequalities we face over the coming years.



Pennie Taylor
Freelance Journalist
Event Details