Call for radical change to improve north east's health and prosperity

Healthy life expectancy for women in the north east is nearly 7 years less than in the south east

National experts have challenged the region's health and care leaders to be more ambitious and to close the health and wealth gap with the rest of the country by making a more radical shift towards preventing poor health.

The report, ‘Health and wealth: closing the gap in the North East’, urges local government and NHS services to take a fresh look at how the region’s significant health and wellbeing challenges could be tackled.

It calls for better joint working across north east authorities and advises that the key way to improve health in the region is to get people back into work.

The report sets out ten recommendations for health and care leaders across County Durham, Gateshead, Newcastle, Northumberland, North Tyneside, South Tyneside and Sunderland to break the vicious circle of poor health and poverty. These include:

  • Radically increasing spend on prevention by rebalancing existing local government and NHS resources, including establishing a dedicated, cross-system prevention fund to tackle inequalities

  • Supporting people to get back to work after illness, including developing a training programme for primary care staff and GPs specifically focused on how they can help people with mental health conditions get back to work

  • Urging health and care leaders to look beyond the interests of their own organisation’s boundaries to ensure that funding is used most effectively to support wellbeing across the region

  • Bringing together local authorities, NHS organisations and the community and voluntary sector through new governance arrangements to drive forward a new push to improve the health of the area

The report says poor population health has resulted in an over focus on the treatment of ill-health at the expense of preventing it, with an over-reliance on health and care services, currently costing £5.2bn a year in the NECA area. More than 60 per cent is spent on treating ill health through hospitals and specialist care - 20 times more than the 3 per cent spent on public health.

The Commission recognises that freeing up the resources needed to radically increase preventive spending will be challenging, with a shift from treating people in hospital to helping them to stay well in the community and therefore a radical change to the way hospital services are currently configured and provided. The Commission stresses that local Sustainability and Transformation Plans (STPs) currently being developed in the area are a great opportunity to set out a new vision of a more efficient and sustainable health and care system in the North East.

The report has today (11 October 2016) been presented to leaders of health and care organisations.

In the coming weeks and months, each of these organisations will be considering the detail of the report and agreeing their response to the recommendations. A copy of the full report is available on the NECA website

North east health challenges:

  • Across the wider North East 18.7% of adults are smokers, considerably higher than the South East where 15.9% of people smoke. The region still has 392,000 smokers. About half of all life-long smokers will die prematurely. On average cigarette smokers die 10 years younger than non-smokers and for every death, around 20 people are suffering from a smoking related illness.

  • 86 out of every 100,000 under 75 year olds die prematurely from heart disease in the wider North East compared to 64 out of every 100,000 in South East England.

  • Average life expectancy for men in the North East is 78 years - 2.5 years less than for men in the South East. For women, life expectancy in the North East is 81.7 years - 2.3 years less than in the South East.

  • Healthy life expectancy for men in the North East is 59.7 years - 6.2 years less than for men in the South East. For women, healthy life expectancy in the North East is 59.8 years - 6.8 years less than in the South East.

  • The North East has the highest unemployment rate of all UK regions at 7.5% against a UK figure of 4.9%.

  • 12% of the working age population claim out of work benefits against 9% for Great Britain.

  • Almost two-thirds of out of work benefits claimants have a health condition that either prevents them from working or limits the type of work that they do.