'Action needed to tackle falling life expectancy in Sheffield'

Greg Fell, director of public health for Sheffield
Greg Fell, director of public health for Sheffield
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Everyone expects to live for longer these days, but for people in Sheffield life expectancy is actually falling.

Men in the city could expect to live for 78.7 years on average in 2013-15, the latest time frame for which figures are available, down slightly from 78.8 in 2012-14.

For women, life expectancy has remained static over the same period, at 82.5 years.

Even more alarming is the sharp decline in the number of years Sheffielders can expect to live in good health.

For women this has fallen from 61.5 years in 2009-11 to 59.9 in 2013-15, while for men it has dropped from 59.3 years to 59 over the same period.

This 'deeply concerning' trend is described in the latest annual health report by Sheffield's director of public health Greg Fell, which is due to go before councillors in the new year.

While acknowledging increases in life expectancy have been stalling across the country, he says the picture is particularly bleak in Sheffield, where both life expectancy and health life expectancy are below the averages for England and for Yorkshire and the Humber.

He identifies austerity as the chief culprit for falling life expectancy in the city, and sets out plans to get Sheffielders living longer again by shifting the focus from cure to prevention.

The three biggest priorities when it comes to extending Sheffielders' lives, he says, are preventing children suffering stressful experiences which could scar them for life, improving mental wellbeing before people become ill, and stepping up efforts to help those living with two or more long-term health conditions.

"Health is an essential part of everything we do, yet we are still tempted to think of it as being about 'not being sick' and our automatic response is therefore to see 'health' as the same as 'health care services'," he writes.

He adds: "That's why a loving family, a safe home, educational achievement, a decent income, a good job, friendly neighbours, clean air, and an environment that lets us all start, live and age well are all far more influential factors in securing good health outcomes than health and social care services alone."

When it comes to giving children the best possible start in life, and helping to break cycles of abuse, neglect or substance misuse, he says more must be done to raise awareness of the lasting impact 'adverse childhood experiences' have on people.

He also calls for greater efforts to identify vulnerable families and provide support as early as possible.

One of the key steps to improving mental wellbeing, he says, is to promote it as something everyone can improve on, not just those using mental health services, and to work harder to tackle problems like bullying, financial stress and social isolation.

Mr Fell also describes how more than 90,000 people across Sheffield have two or more long-term health conditions, the most common of which are high blood pressure, depression and diabetes.

He says there is a need to 'shift the curve' and reduce the demand for hospital care by helping prevent illnesses developing and supporting those who are already ill to better manage their condition.

You can read the report in full at www.sheffield.gov.uk/content/dam/sheffield/docs/public-health/health-wellbeing/Director%20of%20Public%20Health%20Report%202017.pdf.