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Tackling poverty vital to bridging city divide

Darnall.

Darnall.

A ‘long-term’ plan to tackle health inequality in Sheffield has been launched by Sheffield Council to try to tackle a life expectancy divide across the city – which is meaning some people live up to 10 years less than others.

The authority is looking to change the way it delivers health services in the city in an effort to tackle the health-wealth divide as well as other inequalities.

A report by Sheffield Fairness Commission shows people living in Dore and Totley have an average life expectancy of 83.7 years for a man and 86.3 years for a woman.

But in Burngreave that’s just 76.2 for a man and 76.9 for a woman in Burngreave.

And in Firth Park it is 75.6 for men and 80.5 for women – compared to 77.1 and 78.5 in Broomhill.

The numbers match the commission’s research on deprivation – Burngreave and Firth Park are high-deprivation areas, whereas Broomhill and Dore and Totley rank at the better-off end of the scale.

Dr Jeremy Wight, the city’s director of public health, said poverty is directly contributing to the health gap in the city – even if it is not singularly the biggest killer.

Speaking about the Sheffield Council’s own Health Inequalities Plan, he added: “I wouldn’t say poverty is the biggest killer in Sheffield, but I would say it’s the biggest cause of health inequalities.

“Cardiovascular disease is the single biggest killer in Sheffield, and it wouldn’t be fair to say all of that or even the majority of that is caused by poverty. There are some people who die of cardiovascular disease that are very well off.

“But poverty is the single biggest cause of health inequality in the city.

“It’s a long-term problem. We have to get jobs in these areas, and not rubbish jobs, but jobs that provide a secure employment, that is paid at the kind of rate that people can live off.”

But it is also mental health issues which affect life expectancy, says Dr Wight.

He said those with mental health issues can die up to 20 years earlier than those without them – and they often die of unrelated physical conditions.

“People with serious mental health issues like schizophrenia or severe depression die, on average, 20 years younger than people who don’t have serious mental illness. But they don’t as a rule die of the mental illness. They die of diseases like heart disease or stroke.

“There is evidence that when people with mental illness seek help for a physical medical problem, they don’t get as well treated and they don’t tend to comply with complicated treatment as well – which is absolutely not their fault. But there are a lot of reasons why people with mental illness or learning disability tend to do less well with how their physical problems are treated.

“The way to address that is working with the people who provide services – GPs, people from the mental health services – and look at the way they deal with people and provide services for physical illness.”

But more needs to be done to change how people from all walks of life across the city access health services, says Dr Wight.

“The way money flows into the health services is demand-led. People go to see their GP, or they go to A&E or get referred, and the money follows the patient.

“It’s very difficult to say we are going to fund less money in one area and more money in another area.

“What we are doing is making sure the people in the more disadvantaged areas are making greater demands on the service and the money consequently flows into them.

“The way forward is to get people who live in these less well-off parts of the city to be more aware of early symptoms of diseases and to be more demanding of health services,” he said.

The plan states the difference in life expectancy is largely down to chronic disease – and says improving access and identifying high-risk demographics is key.

A raft of measures has been introduced or is set to be brought in to tackle the issue from now until 2017.

The plan puts forward several strategies across the city’s health providers aimed at tackling the issue, including an infant mortality strategy, a redesign of contraception services targeted in areas with high teenage pregnancy rates, a new programme to improve the health of the severely mentally ill, and the launch of a ‘good employer charter’ to help reduce barriers to employment for people with health issues.

A ‘comprehensive programme’ of tobacco control has already been commissioned, aiming to reduce smoking across the city, while an anti-stigma campaign on mental health is ongoing.

This year the council will also look at the Air Quality Action Plan to reduce emissions in the city centre.

Dr Wight added: “We need to improve the socio-economic factors for people in the poorer parts of the city.

“The plan is intended to reduce inequalities in health in the city, and there are all sorts of different ways to address inequalities in health, such as the life expectancy of people between different parts of the city or between different economic groups.

“There is no one thing that will solve the problem. This is not something that will take just six months and it’s done. It is something we will have to look to do persistently for years, to reduce the health inequalities in the city.”

PEOPLE MUST TAKE RESPONSIBILITY

People need to take more responsibility for their own health, according to Sheffield residents.

Mandy Hoyland, aged 51, who lives in Shiregreen but works at For The People Of Burngreave Rainbow’s End in Spital Hill, said: “I think it’s people not eating very good food and not looking after themselves.

“My dad died two years ago, aged 75. He was putting too much salt in his food. My mum was 56. They were from Shiregreen.

“I think it was down to not living healthily.”

Alan Windle, 53, of Knutton Crescent, Parson Cross, said people need to hold themselves to account for their lifestyle.

He said: “If you eat fish and chips and sit around all day you have no-one but yourself to blame if you aren’t healthy.

“There’s a blame culture but people have to take responsibility for themselves, not blame somebody else.”

Robert Delahay, 32, of Southey Hill, an area with life expectancy of 78.6 for a man and 81.4 for a woman, said: “The life expectancy sounds about right. There are more cars on the road here, and not many trees.

“We probably need more green spaces and more investment. A lot of people are on benefits and you can’t buy a lot of food with it. We also need more GP appointments. The surgery here is awful because there are not enough doctors.”

Sharif Shafi, 31, of Lodge Moor, said he visits Burngreave to use the PureGym in Spital Hill.

He said: “Life expectancy is about lifestyle, health, nutrition and diet. These are the things that matter. Changing your lifestyle can be done – I’m a prime example. I changed my lifestyle and it made a big difference.

“Now I go to the gym three times a week and I run five to 10 miles a day. It’s made a massive difference.”

Kevin Ryder, 26, of Ecclesfield Road, Shiregreen, said: “People need to take care of themselves. I’m healthy and I go to the gym. But it doesn’t necessarily have to be costly, it could just be going for a walk.’’

 

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