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NATIONAL HEALTH INDEX: St Helens ranked in top 10 unhealthiest places

NATIONAL HEALTH INDEX: St Helens ranked in top 10 unhealthiest places

There have been renewed calls for the Government to level up regional inequalities after St Helens was ranked as one of the top 10 unhealthiest places in the UK.

That is according to data released by the Office of National Statistics in collaboration with financial services company Lane Clark & Peacock (LCP).

The collaboration resulted in the UK’s first national health index, which ranked areas based on various health factors. These included dementia, cancer, obesity rates and alcohol misuse.

St Helens received a score of 94, along with Nottingham, Salford and Doncaster.

Blackpool was ranked as the unhealthiest place in Britain, scoring just 86. Nearby Knowsley scored 93 points.

In comparison, Wokingham scored the highest and was ranked as the healthiest place in the UK with 110 points.

Dr Jonathan Pearson-Stuttard, one of the study leads, said in an interview with the Sunday Times that the data should serve as “a wake-up call to the government to deliver on its manifesto pledge to level up regional inequalities”.

And a stark north-south divide does jump out from the data.

Of the top 10 healthiest places, only one wasn’t located in the south of England – Rutland, in the Midlands, which scored 105.

Meanwhile, all of the top 10 unhealthiest places were in the geographic north, bar Nottingham in the Midlands.

Conor McGinn, MP for St Helens North, criticised the government’s handling of this regional divide.

He said: “We know the Government’s rhetoric about levelling-up needs to be matched with a commitment to addressing the legacy of industrial-related diseases and the historic underinvestment in our communities’ health and wellbeing.

“As I recently raised in Parliament, the existing health inequalities we have in St Helens Borough will only be made worse by the impact of Covid.

“Our local public health teams and wider NHS need the resources to target early intervention and key messages, and work alongside our schools, community organisations, sports clubs, gyms, fitness and leisure sector to address this head-on.”

Marie Rimmer, MP for St Helens South & Whiston, added: “The UK has the most regionally imbalanced economy in Europe.

“For too long these inequalities have gone unanswered. A decade of austerity was followed by this pandemic, which has highlighted these inequalities in a cruel and more horrible way than I ever imagined.

“The government has talked a lot about its “levelling up” agenda, yet so far there has been little to back this up.”

So what can be done on a local level to combat this ranking?

Cllr Anthony Burns, cabinet member for wellbeing, culture and heritage, remarked: “We know that St Helens Borough has long faced problems with its health inequalities which all have an impact on our figures nationally.

“Health inequalities come about as a result of a diverse range of issues including employment and the impact of historical jobs like mining on people’s health, poverty and deprivation.

“Giving people the right support, whether financially, physically or mentally, would help us to reduce some of that burden and while we are constrained in what we can do at present we have had a huge programme in place to address a number of issues such as our obesity strategy to lower our rates and focuses on children.

“It is also about encouraging individuals to take responsibility for their own health too and make the right choices from everything we put into our bodies including food, alcohol and smoking. From cutting down our drinking levels, quitting smoking and watching what we eat – this all makes a difference.

“For those who need more help we have a range of services through St Helens Wellbeing Service that can support families to make the right food choices, our stop smoking service is helping us to get more people to quit for good and our drug and alcohol services are supporting people to address their issues.

“As a council we’re also investing in improving our leisure services with the refurbishment of Newton-le-Willows Leisure Centre, new 3G pitch at Sutton Leisure Centre as well as bringing the pool at Sutton back into operation.”

Schools across the borough are also working to improve children’s health from early years.

Andy Howard, chair of St Helens Association for PE and Sport and Headteacher at Legh Vale Primary School, added: “Schools across the borough are supporting the wider effort to support young people start life in a healthy way.

“In the last full school year unaffected by Covid-19 we created 143 sporting competitions that saw 10,501 pupils get active, a 53 per cent increase in participation from the previous year.

“In that same time 44 schools achieved the School Games Mark and we have been supporting staff to build more healthy activities into the school day for pupils to help foster those healthy habits early.

“Despite Covid-19 we have collectively continued to challenge pupils to be physically active at home and helped schools to find ways to operate PE and school sports in a safe environment.

“We know that children leading healthy active lifestyles find they can focus on school work better which is why we recognise that tackling health inequalities can go on to make a significant difference to other areas of our children’s lives and that is why we are committed to making healthy living the norm for our pupils.”

Words: Jess Phillips, Local Democracy Reporter

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