HEALTH TIMEBOMB: Dire outlook through obesity, drink, smoking and lack of exercise

Lancashire's health timebomb
Lancashire's health timebomb
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It is the sort of health check that would set alarm bells ringing in any doctor’s surgery.

But the patient is Lancashire and medical chiefs warn the prognosis is not looking good.

WELLBEING:  The report

WELLBEING: The report

Around two-thirds of the county’s adults are overweight, a fifth are at risk from alcohol misuse, almost 1,700 will die from smoking this year and 30 per cent don’t exercise at all.

And 16 per cent of Lancashire’s health budget is being spent on just two per cent of the population – the ones who have complex medical problems.

One obesity expert says the much-talked-about ticking health time bomb “has probably gone off”.

Dr Emma Boyland declared: “We’re probably suffering the ill-effects and things are only going to get worse.”

It’s simply not acceptable, some people are worse off simply because of where they were born and brought up and we should do our best to eliminate that

So in a desperate attempt to pull the patient back from the brink, Lancashire’s director of public health has launched a last gasp fitness programme to turn it all around.

In his first annual report on the state of the county Dr Sakthi Karunanithi has put forward a list of 13 key actions which he believes are needed to sort out the mess.

“While people are living longer, they’re often doing so while dealing with serious health conditions,” he said. “At the heart of this report we’re clear that we need to improve people’s lives.

“We need to address health inequalities, not just in the most deprived communities, but across the county as a whole. Protecting and promoting good health is not just a social issue, but also crucial for our local and national economy.

County Coun. Azhar Ali (s)

County Coun. Azhar Ali (s)

“Illness doesn’t just affect people’s lives, it also costs the British economy around £100bn each year through days people are off work – this is greater than the NHS budget for 2013/14 and comparable to the entire Gross Domestic Product of Portugal.”

The health picture across Lancashire shows inequalities are rife depending on which part of the county people live.

“It’s simply not acceptable, some people are worse off simply because of where they were born and brought up and we should do our best to eliminate that,” argued Coun Geoff Driver, leader of Lancashire County Council’s Tory opposition group. He appealed for action to follow words when the report was unveiled. “We must ask for the next steps to be introduced and implemented - we want to ensure this excellent report doesn’t just end up on a shelf somewhere.”

Dr Karunanithi highlighted some sobering statistics which show how much work the county needs to do to get healthy.

Dr Emma Boyland

Dr Emma Boyland

On diet, the figures show 64.7 per cent of adults are considered overweight or obese. For children in reception class (aged four to five) the figure is 23.5 per cent. Both figures are above the national average.

On alcohol 24 per cent of Lancashire adults are estimated to be binge drinkers, 21.3 per cent are at risk from alcohol misuse and the cost of that is just short of £500m a year.

On smoking almost one in five adults still have the habit, 15.7 per cent of pregnant women smoke and 11 per cent of young people - again all above the national average.

And on exercise more than 30 per cent don’t do any at all, resulting in almost 300 premature deaths a year and costing the public purse £19m.

But it is the way which Lancashire’s health budget is divided up which causes the most surprise.

More than 16 per cent of the available cash goes on treating just two per cent of patients, the ones with the most complex medical needs.

Across the county this amounts to almost £80m a year spent on just 3,940 people.

In Greater Preston, £13.4m is spent on treating 689 patients, in Chorley and South Ribble it comes to £12.1m on 589 and in Lancashire North £10.3m on 498.

Fydle and Wyre spend £10.2m on 522 patients, West Lancashire needs £7.6m to treat 393 with serious medical needs and by far the biggest amount is spent in East Lancashire where more than £25m goes on 1,249 people.

Dr Karunanithi has urged politicians, businesses, community leaders and employers to help make a difference.

His prescription for change will, he says, require a strong political will “to radically upgrade our efforts on prevention.”

It will also need “fully engaged” individuals, families, communities and businesses working to improve wellbeing” and “a workforce that embraces innovation and puts people and the places they live at the centre of everything they do.”

He added: “Our county is ageing and the burden of disease is on the rise. My vision is to develop Lancashire into a safer, fairer and healthier place for our residents.”