Making public health matter

25 Feb


According to Public Health England the health of people in Newham is “varied compared with the England average”. Which is a polite way of saying it’s mostly worse. Specifically:

  • Deprivation is higher than average and about 24,000 children live in poverty.
  • Life expectancy for both men and women is lower than the England average.
  • Within the borough, life expectancy is 5.0 years lower for men and 5.5 years lower for women in the most deprived areas than in the least deprived areas.
  • Over the last 10 years, early death rates from cancer and from heart disease and stroke have fallen, but the latter remains worse than the England average.
  • In Year 6, 25.6% of children are classified as obese, worse than the average for England.
  • Rates of sexually transmitted infections, smoking related deaths and hospital stays for alcohol related harm are worse than the England average.
  • The estimated level of adult physical activity is worse than the England average.

But on the positive side:

  • Levels of GCSE attainment, alcohol-specific hospital stays among those under 18, breast feeding and smoking in pregnancy are better than the England average.
  • The estimated level of adult ‘healthy eating’ is (surprisingly) better than the England average.
  • The rate of road injuries and deaths is better than the England average.

Public Health England identified the priorities in Newham as: tackling heart disease and stroke; immunisation; maternity and early years care; cancer; circulatory diseases; and long term conditions.

The Health and Social Care Act of 2012, which heralded the current unnecessary and damaging reorganisation of the NHS, also transferred responsibility for local health improvement to local authorities, including Newham. The transfer ctually took place on 1 April 2013, some nine months after the Act received Royal Assent.

So Sir Robin had a bit of time to think about how he might approach this and to include a bit about public health in his ‘Mayor’s Contract’. After all, what could be more important to improving the lives of Newham people than making them healthier?

Can you guess how many times does the word ‘health’ appears in the Mayor’s Contract 2013/14? Zero. Not even once.

I suppose we shouldn’t be surprised. Improving health is hard work, it takes a long time and it’s really difficult to move the needle even a little. Most of the evidence of success will come years down the line, long after Sir Robin has moved on to City Hall or the House of Lords. And it’s not the kind of work that lends itself to photo opportunities.

But it is vitally important. In May Sir Robin is asking for another 4 years in power. His councillors and those who aspire to join them are already out on the doorstep, pushing leaflets through letterboxes and talking to voters. We must take this opportunity – it won’t come again for another 4 years – to push public health onto the agenda. Ask the canvassers what the Mayor’s proposals are, what he (and they) are going to do make Newham a healthier place.

And if Sir Robin deigns to hold a public meeting or two, turn up and ask him directly.

One Response to “Making public health matter”

  1. Southpawpunch (@Southpawpunch) May 5, 2014 at 19:07 #

    The Archduke of Wales’ campaign is content free (near enough). Public health is an exciting new power where councils could use the democratic input of cllrs to advance far beyond what it was under the dead hand of NHS bureaucrats (I know – I’ve worked directly with both).

    A key way to advance public health is to make more easily available what is good for you. Quite often that means making free again what has become something you pay for.

    Take Wanstead Flats as an example (in Redbridge, I know, but could be anywhere in Newham).

    Decades ago it was heavily used a ‘lung’ and many kids played on it. Now, even in the summer, it is near empty. If you are a kid and want to kick a ball this now seems to be the preserve of paid classes e.g. ‘Peter Hucker’. So pay for facilitators, for a summer or two, to get kids back onto the Flats all summer. Make it the culture again so all summer open spaces are full of young people having fun (and getting healthier).

    In addition, if you are playing on the Flats and you get thirsty what do you do – go to Woodford Road and buy a can of Coke. Until a few years ago, there was a trough at the entrance to the Flats at the corner of Woodford Rd and Capel Road that was used once to provide free water – for horses and . It was provided by one of those (Victorian?) societies that cared more about cattle than costermongers’ kids. In Italy, you see drinking water fountains everywhere. Make drinking water fountains available everywhere and break the monopoly of the sugar water producers.

    Public Health is easy to deliver but it means taking on big business interests. What’s the chance of Wales doing that?

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