Inequalities in the country are striking – and entrenched – research released last month by the Universities of York and Manchester show starkly the situation is worsening.
From 1965 to 2015 the northern half of England experienced a fifth more premature (under age 75) deaths than the southern half. That’s around 1.2 million Northerners dying earlier than they would have done if they had experienced the same life chances as those in the South.
The team show that a sharp increase in premature deaths among middle-aged adults in the North first emerged in the mid-90s, increasingly quickly but consistently until the end of the study period in 2015, with 49 per cent more deaths among 35-44 year olds in the North in 2015 and 29 per cent more deaths among 25-34 year olds in the North in 2015.
This inequality will not disappear overnight and it needs to be tackled on all fronts. The Government’s Life Sciences Industrial Strategy, due to be published in early autumn, must put the North’s poor health at its heart to succeed.
Health cannot be separated from prosperity and the Industrial Strategy must address this by investing more into health research in the North, tackling health inequalities at the root, and also by driving high-skilled jobs into the region.
Life expectancy reduces from South to North England with every Government Office Region showing significantly more early deaths the further North the region sits. This is a persistent problem with disturbing trends. These inequalities are rising, particularly among working age people, with over 40 per cent higher mortality among men age 35-49 in the North compared with the South.
Over the past four years, four decades of improving premature mortality has flat-lined, with rises now being seen in Northern parts of England – a pattern rarely seen outside wartime.
The £20m Government-funded Northern Health Science Alliance’s Health North: Connected Health Cities (CHC) project, is an example of a strategy which works through addressing both health and economic need. It runs four projects across the North, in Yorkshire, the North East and North Cumbria, North West Coast and Manchester, to use health data to improve population health and well-being, while drawing in jobs and investment to the region.
In Yorkshire Connected Health Cities is doing excellent work to tackle the country-wide issue of over-stretched hospital A&E departments. By linking together patient data from different hospitals and services across Yorkshire, researchers can understand the flow of patients through A&E departments, what the most common health issues are and how to better plan community services in the future.
The data means we can understand A&E services across an entire city and suggest improvements. In the future, this information will help researchers to forecast disease outbreaks.
Childhood Obesity is another Yorkshire CHC strand which learns from the health and society factors which influence Childhood Obesity. The project uses data from the Born in Bradford cohort which includes health data, such as information from maternity services like the birthweight of new babies. This information is linked with other information such as the National Child Measurement Programme to understand the patterns and development of childhood obesity. We are hoping to predict childhood obesity at an earlier age so we can intervene sooner to help children.
Another Yorkshire Connected Health Cities project is empowering older people’s independence by making sure their care is linked up. By joining together different health information from across Yorkshire we will be able to plan and coordinate services so that patients receive more efficient care and manage their own health better.
A place-based industrial strategy needs to do more to support this kind of successful programme in the North. More investment in Connected Health Cities, and projects like it, will support people to be healthier in the areas it is needed while creating jobs.
Most of all the industrial strategy has to be truly national. Yes, the South should receive continued investment – but this should not be at the expense of the rest of England. In our recent Health Innovation Breathing Life into the Northern Powerhouse report with IPPR North we called for government to aim to commit 20 per cent of its health research budget to the North as ‘catch up capital’ to stop the skewed funding which sees London, Oxford and Cambridge receive a disproportionate amount of the national budget.
The Health Innovation report illustrates a clear link between investment in research and health outcomes, with research-active health trusts also seeing lower rates of patient mortality following emergency admissions.
The Government must invest in northern life sciences to close the North-South gap in economic growth and health post-Brexit. If we are to thrive in the North of England we need a workforce that is healthy and a smart strategy which will tackle health and wealth inequalities together.
Dr Hakim Yadi OBE, Chief Executive of the Northern Health Science Alliance.