Monday, July 23, 2012


Today I attended a session for members of  Stockton's Health & Wellbeing Partnership to discuss inequalities in health and how to tackle them.  It's generally accepted that on average healthier people live longer, more independent lives than unhealthy people.  Which means that the life expectancy of people in a town or a district gives a reasonable idea of how healthy they are likely to be.  The shocking fact about Stockton is that the difference in life expectancy between the best and the worst end of the spectrum is bigger than almost everywhere else in England!  In general it's the people in the more affluent areas of the borough who live the longest and the difference is around 15 years between the best and the worst.  I don't think that anyone in the room was happy with that statistic.
The difficult question is how to make the gap smaller.  All sorts of things have been tried and some things have shown a good effect - early deaths from coronary heart disease are decreasing.  But smoking in pregnancy is still far too common, as is drug and alcohol abuse.  Most people today were convinced that improvements need to start young, and carry on.  So encouraging more mothers to breastfeed their babies for at least a few weeks would lead to a significant improvment in health later.  But today we were asking whether more radical intervention was needed - should children who are born to drug or alcohol abusing parents be taken into care at birth?  Should women who continue to smoke pregnancy be charged with child abuse?  There's not a simple yes or no answer to these questions - where would the necessary foster and adoptive parents be found for example?  But the questions certainly focused the minds of those present on the need to make every penny of funding and every scrap of intervention count.  A happy healthy child who attends school regularly is more likely to benefit from education, get a job, live a fulfilled and healthy life on average than a child without that start in life.
So the question for us all is - how much is that good start in life worth and where do we get the resources from to give it?

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