Leeds health chiefs launch ambitious bid to tackle growing gulf between rich and poor
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Shocking figures show more than a quarter of Leeds’ population are currently living in areas considered the most deprived in the country - equating to over 220,000 people.
And that figure has been on the rise, increasing by 40,000 over the past nine years.
Grim life expectancy statistics show that those people are likely to die up to 11.5 years earlier than residents living in the least deprived areas of the city, according to data from Public Health England - and also experience a much poorer quality of life.
Now, health chiefs at NHS Leeds Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG) have published what has been described as one of their most “innovative and dynamic” plans to tackle the issue of health inequality in Leeds once and for all and help close the gap in health outcomes between rich and poor.
And the timing could not be more critical.
While the scandal of health inequality in this city has been a hot topic for a number of years - and was the subject of the YEP’s ‘A City Divided’ campaign last year - it has been brought into even sharper focus with Covid-19 pandemic exposing the harsh reality that the most disadvantaged in the city appear to be disproportionately affected.
In the CCG’s annual review, chief executive Tim Ryley, together with Jason Broch, clinical chair, said the pandemic’s impact will be “far reaching and long lasting”, affecting people’s physical health, mental welling, livelihoods and communities - with those living in areas of deprivation among the hardest hit.
“The economic decline and social disruption resulting from the pandemic will almost certainly harm health and widen health inequalities”, they said.
Their new health inequalities ‘framework’ will now be a major factor in the work to mitigate the effects of the pandemic.
The ambitious blueprint for action has shaken up the way the CCG has traditionally run health services and gives more power - and funding - to communities to tackle issues head on.
It also looks at all the issues which can lead to poorer health outcomes - not just the geographical areas of deprivation such as Harehills, Chapeltown and Beeston,but also focuses on the challenges faced by marginalised and vulnerable groups all across the city such as the homIeless, people with learning disabilities, Gypsies and travellers, the unemployed, those with mental illness.
Tim Ryley told the YEP: “To me, it’s one of the most forward-looking documents the CCG has undertaken in all the time I have worked in the NHS.
“It has gone behind the numbers to really start to address the poor life experiences that a number of people in our city have experienced.”
The decisions on how money could be spent will come from ‘local care partnerships’ - groups within communities made up of representatives from health and social care, local voluntary organisations and local people.
In Leeds, there are currently 18 LCPs across the city who will now be able to design services to respond to their communities’ needs, supported by their local GP network.
Tim said this new arrangement, of communities and partners coming together to look collectively at local issues, is a key factor in the framework.
“It’s quite exciting because what’s driving inequalities in one place might be totally different to what’s driving it in another. If we give funding to them and let them decide with their communities, then it’s more likely to have an impact.
“We are also looking to ensure that the funding of the third sector and voluntary sector is put on a bit more of a secure footing. The council and NHS has always contributed to that sector but it’s always been a bit piecemeal. This framework makes that more secure - longer contracts, longer funding mechanisms.”
All of the CCG’s investments and projects will also now be examined for their ability to tackle the issue of health inequalities.
He added: “We are going to look at every single thing we do. All our decisions about where we put our resources will be put under that lens - will they make a difference to health inequality or reduce them?”
Stressing health inequalities for him is simply a “moral issue”, he added: “The whole city is committed to this. They are all part of this.”
Lucy Jackson, consultant in public health at Leeds City Council, has been involved in the framework, which was being developed before the pandemic broke out.
She said: “The commitment was there without Covid but with Covid, the timing is almost more important.
“It’s very clear that Covid hasn’t affected everyone the same. It does really show us if we’re going to get over something like Covid, we have to work on health inequalities.”
Lucy said the plan is a “significant” step forward for the city.
“It’s brilliant. I have worked in Leeds for 30 years in public health and to have the CCG so clearly committed to health inequality is something we haven’t seen for a while.”
The many ways the city has come together to tackle the impact of Covid-19 shows the potential success of the framework’s community-focused action plan, says Lucy.
“When we were having a cluster of outbreaks in the most deprived areas, we worked in partnership with the third sector and other sectors in terms of practically knocking on people’s doors to let people know there were high infection rates, putting in extra testing in those areas [such as in a mosque in Harehills], getting out key health messages.”
“It shows that commitment to the city - rather than a one size fits all,” she added.
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