'This recession is killing us': Stoke-on-Trent could see return of major health problems, warns top doctor
THE recession is threatening to see the return of major health problems in Stoke-on-Trent after decades trying to improve the situation, the city's top doctor has warned.
He claims public spending cuts and benefit changes will widen health inequalities between the Potteries and better off parts of the country.
The warning comes from public health director Professor Zafar Iqbal, as the rate of major illnesses such as cancer and heart disease is falling among the 250,000 residents who are living longer than ever.
He says the gap between sickness levels locally and nationally is also narrowing.
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Now the expert has called on the city council and local NHS to try to identify those most at risk of failing health caused by the crisis – and then use 'preventative and mitigating programmes' to safeguard them.
Professor Iqbal said: "These are critical times with worrying changes, such as cuts in council services and welfare changes, which may affect public health.
"I am worried about groups or individuals falling through the net so it is important we pick them out and take mitigating action to make them more resilient and help them through.
"While Government policy argues that tackling welfare reform will oblige people to work, many observers expect the changes to compound the effects of the economic crisis.
"That will have significant impact on health through social determinants such as employment, income and housing.
"Health inequalities are expected to widen and adverse health effects are anticipated, such as increases in mental health problems and mortality from coronary heart disease."
His annual report showed that men in the city were now living on average to 76.2 years – more than four years older than just two decades ago. Male life expectancy is 2.4 years shorter than the national average compared to a gap of 3.2 years between 2003-5.
Potteries women are dying on average at 80.2 years – two years younger than nationwide norms. Between 1991 and 1993 female life expectancy was just over 77.
The latest figures for 2011 show there were 2,311 deaths with cancer remaining the main cause and being responsible for 732 fatalities .
Heart disease and strokes accounted for 581 and chest illness 371. Just over 60 per cent of people dying were aged 75 or over with 36.2 percent aged between 35 and 74.
Professor Iqbal said: "My report shows that despite the positive impact made by public health across Stoke-on-Trent, we still lag behind the English average for most health indicators.
"Although we are performing better than expected in several areas, overall health remains poor and we particularly need to focus our efforts on the major killers of coronary heart disease, cancer, and chronic lung disease."
Kath Banks, of the city council's adult and neighbourhoods scrutiny committee, said: "I never thought times would get so hard we would see food banks return to try to keep people healthy."