The latest annual report from Dr Ian Cameron, Leeds Director of Public Health, makes for fascinating reading. Warning of challenging times for Leeds health, he focuses on a key areas for concern and highlights recommendations for improving progress.
My annual report this year was not the one I started writing. I decided to alter the focus of the report as I saw growing evidence of concerning health trends in our city.
I have called the report “Nobody Left Behind: Good Health and A Strong Economy”, because that underpins what we want to see.
For the first time in a generation life expectancy is no longer increasing. In my report you can read that we have worsening life expectancy for women and a static life expectancy for men.
I have particular concern about infant mortality; alcohol-related deaths in women; drug-related deaths in men and suicides in men. I also am worried about a troubling picture around self-harm in women.
I make a range of recommendations, including around Best Start and the Inclusive Growth Strategy, which can play a role in improving health, as the benefits that come from a strong economy help people cope with some of the impact of austerity on the health of the city.
Of course it is not all doom and gloom! We continue to make good progress in many areas, and I have never known the city to be so joined-up in commitment to make sure that all we do, from planning and housing to education and care, contribute to improving overall health and wellbeing.
Recent analysis identified Leeds as performing as one of the top cities for wellbeing. This included categories such as self-reported happiness and life satisfaction; unemployment; income deprivation affecting older people; use of natural environment and life satisfaction inequality. The What Works Centre for Wellbeing research, which looks beyond some of the more obvious health measures to see how well infrastructure, education and a wide range of other factors impact on people’s everyday life and consequent health and wellbeing – and this shows Leeds consistently does well.
Leeds isn’t the only local authority area to see worsening life expectancy – it is a national concern.
What worries me is that a lack of national investment in preventative health threatens health improvements in Leeds and other parts of the UK made over recent years. We need good understanding of reasons for health problems identified in the annual report. In this way we can better target Leeds investment, helping us address the particular needs of men, women and communities.
If times of austerity consistently and inevitably have a negative impact on the health of people, in Leeds and in other cities, towns and villages across the UK, we are using the strong partnerships across the city to make the most of opportunities to improve health outcomes wherever possible – making every contact count and making the best of our community assets.
In Leeds our Health and Wellbeing Strategy and Inclusive Growth Strategy set out a clear direction of travel and these buttress my optimism that we can return to improving life expectancies and reducing health inequalities.
The areas which I focus on in my report aren’t necessarily the biggest killers in the city. Most people still die from the big killers: cardiovascular disease, cancer, respiratory disease. But rates for these don’t concern me in the same way and we have some good progress in these areas.
Evidence suggests we need to focus on rising deaths in men from drug overdose, more women dying from alcoholic liver disease and two additional trends that, while not statistically significant in terms of mortality, are worrying – more deaths in men from suicide and more young women who self-harm.
Starting prevention early in life is at the heart of a long term Leeds approach. But everyone in the city can play a role in their own and other people’s health, and I hope that more and more people understand this so that trends can improve.
I hope you will take a chance to read my annual report in more depth. There are excellent examples of the great work being done to tackle health inequalities, including efforts to reduce alcohol abuse, as well as support for mental health in young people, men and women in ways which are appropriate to their individual needs. There is detail about the excellent suicide prevention work, which is nationally recognised, and a close look at how the city’s inclusive growth strategy – including housing, poverty and employment – plays a role in supporting improvements in health, particular in the least well off parts of Leeds.
You can be read and download the report from www.leeds.gov.uk/dphreport
I will be interested to see what you think!