Strategy 'needed' to tackle health inequalities in our region's seaside towns

A national strategy is needed to tackle the health inequalities in our region's seaside towns - according to a report by England's Chief Medical Officer.

It highlights the high rates of physical and mental health conditions in these areas, which often come with a lower life expectancy.

Recommendations include more healthcare staff being deployed, data collection improved and a national strategy developed to tackle the inequalities. 

Public health bosses in Lincolnshire and Hull are supportive of the plans.

Health bosses in Hull are supportive of the findings. Credit: PA Images

Professor Whitty worked alongside Directors of Public Health in coastal regions who looked at case studies within large port cities and local authorities covering smaller seaside towns. The work provided information on the demographic structure of the population and their health and wellbeing outcomes, along with both the strengths and challenges they face.

Major points from the report include:

  • Older, retired citizens, who have increasing health problems, often settle in coastal regions but without the same access to healthcare as urban inland areas. In smaller seaside towns, 31% of the resident population was aged 65 years or over in 2019, compared to just 22% in smaller non-coastal towns.

  • Difficulties in attracting NHS and social care staff to peripheral areas is a common issue. The report found coastal communities have 14.6% fewer postgraduate medical trainees, 15% fewer consultants and 7.4% fewer nurses per patient than the national average despite higher healthcare needs.

  • An oversupply of guest housing has led to Houses of Multiple Occupation (HMOs) which lead to concentrations of deprivation and ill health. Directors of Public Health and local government leaders raise concerns about the challenges of poor quality, but cheap HMOs, encouraging the migration of vulnerable people from elsewhere in the UK, often with multiple and complex health needs, into coastal towns.

  • The sea is a benefit but also a barrier: attracting NHS and social care staff to some areas is harder and transport is often limited which affects job opportunities.

The report highlights the paradox that coastal areas are generally healthier than living inland due to the physical and mental health benefits to living near the coast, including better access to outdoor spaces for exercise, social contact and lower air pollution.

The report says places like Scarborough have high rates of serious illnesses which need to be addressed. Credit: PA Images

Responding to the report, Health and Social Care Secretary, Sajid Javid, said: 

“I welcome this report from Professor Chris Whitty, which raises important points on inequalities that we must tackle to improve the health of coastal communities - and I will carefully consider these recommendations. 

“Those living in coastal areas clearly face different sets of challenges to those inland but everybody, no matter where they live, should have similar opportunities in education, housing, employment and health.

“We are committed to levelling up across the nation and the new Office for Health Promotion - launching in the Autumn - will drive and support the whole of government to go further in improving people’s health.”