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Thursday, 30 October 2014

Postcode lottery of life expectancy in Cumbria

HOPES are high that a new approach to healthcare will help close the staggering gap in life expectancy among residents across different parts of Cumbria.

People living in Barrow’s central areas are likely to live on average about 17 years fewer than those residing in the wealthier parts of the county.

Lower incomes and educational qualifications, as well as higher rates of smoking, alcohol abuse, drug addiction and manual labour jobs, are listed as contributory factors.

Eradicating such inequalities is one of the Cumbria Health and Wellbeing Board’s main aims when it takes over responsibility for a range of public health services in April.

Members of the board, which comprises councils, family doctors and voluntary organisations, visited Barrow as part of a series of events on health and wellbeing day this week.

They met for an hour with two young mothers, Dawn Ellender and Justine Blackburn, to discuss health challenges facing not only new mums but everyone in the community.

The board’s joint chairperson, Councillor Anne Burns, said a restructuring of the health system meant the county council had taken on many responsibilities once held by NHS Cumbria.

She said the four primary areas of focus would be health inequalities, children and young people, mental health and wellbeing, and the ageing population.

“What the Health and Wellbeing Board will be looking at is how they can work with local people to raise awareness about health issues,” she said.

“We’ve got real inequalities in Cumbria. There’s nearly a 20-year gap (in life expectancy) between Barrow and places like Eden.

“So it’s about us working together to bridge that gap by improving health – to stop people going into hospitals – and education, so that we don’t have people leaving school with no qualifications.”

Dr Geoff Jolliffe, Barrow’s lead GP, said the board could not meet the goals contained in the Joint Health and Wellbeing Strategy 2012-15 without engaging with the public.

“We want to be able to get out and listen to people,” he said. “This is an opportunity for different parts of the system to work together around a common goal.”

Mrs Ellender, 31, of Walney, said she enjoyed the opportunity to share her thoughts on different aspects of the health system.

She said one of her biggest wishes was that the board ensured more mothers knew about the support services available at places such as Sure Start Children’s Centre in Greengate Street.

“After I’d had my daughter Sophia, I’d heard about Sure Start but didn’t know if I was allowed to go along, or whether I had to qualify or something like that,” she said.

“But I went along and it’s been fantastic because being a new mum for the first time is like nothing else you’ve ever done.”

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