Yesterday Public Health England produced a report on the health of every local authority area in England. The report for Liverpool is very poor index. This is not the fault of the council or the NHS or housing providers. It is the result of a whole series of things that collectively need attention. Everyone has a role to play in this not least the many people who are ill with problems like obesity which they could do something about.
But we should not underestimate the way that any problems are hugely magnified by poverty. Looks at the difference firstly between Liverpool, the English average and the healthiest parts of England. The more money that you have, the wealthier the area the longer you will live. You can see that on the chart for Liverpool as well. The southern suburbs of Woolton and Allerton, for example, have mortality rates very little moved from the England average.
The links of poverty to poor health have been known for centuries. If you live in a poorly maintained, damp and draughty house of course you will be ill. If you eat poor quality food it will add to your obesity. If you don’t have a job you are far more likely to be depressed and lack fulfilment. If any of these statements surprise you then I, in turn, am surprised! Clearly things are getting better in Liverpool BUT they are not getting better at the same rate as they are in England as a whole. So in some ways Liverpool is falling even further behind.
So what can be done? Well clearly the most important thing that we must learn from all the facts is that we cannot leave health to the NHS. I am not being disparaging about the magnificent work being done by the staff of the NHS or even the NHS as a whole. But they are not the most important determinant of longevity. If everyone who wanted a job had one; if everyone who needed a decent home had one; if everyone who wanted to live in a clean, safe well managed neighbourhood could do so there would be far fewer calls on the NHS. That would mean that the NHS could concentrate more on those for whom illness is unavoidable, especially those who are elderly who always have massive health problems in the last 18 months of life.
So do we leave it that. Do we say that the is little that we can do because we are poor and because we don’t have enough jobs. Should we just keep our fingers crossed and hope for an upturn in our local economy. Of course not because there is much that can be done to at least reduce the differences.
We can all eat better. Good food is often cheaper than poor food. But we have to know what is good and bad and we have to resist the siren calls of the big company, big budget advertising that encourages us to buy junk food either at the supermarket or takeaways.
We can all drink better. Resist the temptations of fattening, sugary drinks. Keep to the recommended limits of 14 units of alcohol per week.
We can all exercise more. 20 minutes walking a day can do wonders. You don’t need to have the discipline of an Olympic athlete to do enough exercise to keep fit.
It’s incredible that 20% of people, are still smoking. And don’t be fooled by e-cigs. They are not good for you but they are just not as bad as the real thing..
We should all, young people in particular for obvious reasons be more careful of our sex lives to prevent a whole host of problems including unwanted teenage pregnancy.
This may sound like yet another middle class moralising exercise. Perhaps it is but the science says that the five things above would make huge differences to people’s life spans and the quality of life that they have.
So we we just leave it to the individual then? NO. We all need help to fulfil these five objectives. This need to come in 3 ways:
INformation. Letting people have the information they need to make informed choices about their lifestyle. This should particularly be available at point of sale so that people know what is in the packets full of goodies.
Support Mechamisms. Giving people a range of educational and practical support activities to help them avoid or come off unhealthy lifestyles.
Legislation. The two things above must be supported by legislation so that manufacturers have to display proper information about contents in ways that ordinary consumers like me can understand. Legislation must also be used, as in the case of tobacco to affect change by looking at advertising, tax and sales regulations.
Everyone knows that all these things must be done yet the Government has cut the Public Health budget by £850,000,000 which means that councils and the NHS will struggle to continue to provide existing services never mind undertake the expansion which is so desperately needed.
People are dying today earlier than they need to. We cannot wait for a vague tomorrow to come to tackle these very clear and very obvious needs.
You can find out the full 4 page note on Liverpool by following this link. Http://fingertipsreports.phe.org.uk/healthProfiles/2016/e08000012.pdf&time_period=2016