Economy is bad for your health

IT is a sad fact of life that people’s health in Hartlepool is not as good as the rest of the country.

We tend to suffer more from ill-health, obesity, alcohol related issues and smoking and, as a result, endure heart attacks, cancer and strokes.

Life expectancy in Hartlepool is lower than other parts of the country – a Hartlepool boy born today would be expected to live until he was 75.9 years’ old, some two years below the national average.

A little girl from the town born today could expect to live until she was 81 year-old which, although it is better than a similar girl born in Middlesbrough, Gateshead, South Tyneside or Sunderland, is still a full year shorter than the national average.

These figures have improved quite dramatically in the last 15 years or so.

This is because of significant increases in health funding, a greater emphasis on prevention, more investment focused on primary health care such as GPs and generally rising living standards as the economy grew.

However, the situation is actually much worse than those figures suggest.

The information masks huge differences in life expectancy within the town.

Someone living in Stranton, Dyke House or Owton Manor would expect to die up to 11 years earlier than somebody living close to Ward Jackson Park.

It can’t be right in a civilised society that where you live or your postcode can determine how long you live.

This week, there was a Parliamentary debate in the House of Commons to discuss health inequalities in the North-East and I attended to champion Hartlepool’s cause.

There are a number of reasons why we suffer in Hartlepool from ill health and poor life expectancy.

One of the reasons is our historical legacy as a place of heavy manufacturing, which means that we have more of a problem than other parts of the country with industrial diseases and injuries.

I particularly wanted to highlight to Parliament my concern over the delay in helping people suffering from asbestos-related diseases like mesothelioma.

However, the biggest factor in terms of health is the economy.

Being unemployed is often the same as being unwell and there is a very clear link between deprivation, low levels of income and ill health.

I fear – and this is something I emphasised in the Parliamentary debate – that a worsening economic situation will make health matters much worse and that those poor life expectancy figures will deteriorate over the next few years.

The Minister’s response in the debate was stunning in not answering any of the questions I asked, including on the future of Hartlepool hospital.

However, she and other ministers cannot hide their heads in the sand.

Economic problems will lead to further health problems, and people’s well being will suffer.