Health gap in Devon grows on one side of county, shrinks on the other
The life expectancy gap between Devon’s richest and poorest is growing at one end of the county but shrinking at the other, a snapshot of its health has revealed.
According to Devon County Council’s annual public health report, people in the west of the county live in polarised communities of prosperous neighbourhoods cheek by jowl with high levels of deprivation.
The result is an increasing chasm between the life expectancy of the wealthiest and poorest, whereas in the east of the county - where social divisions are not as wide - the gap is getting smaller.
Devon’s director of public health, Dr Virginia Pearson, said work must be done to level the playing field.
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“Although much has been done to improve the health of our local population over the past years, we need to continue to address health inequality and reduce the gap between the health of the best off in Devon and the worst-off,” she said.
The report is the first one since Devon County Council took over responsibility for public health.
It paints a picture of a largely prosperous county where residents enjoy a higher than average life expectancy which is continuing to rise.
However, a scratch beneath the surface shows the “striking variation” between north, east and west of Devon which the report says “exposes an inequality in health experiences that is closely linked to premature death rates.”
The study points to some good news, such as teenage pregnancy being at its lowest rate sine 1998 and a successful drive to bring down some rates of childhood obesity.
However, it warns that services will need to take account of changes in the resident population, which is growing at twice the national average.
The population growth in under 60s is projected to be “modest”, but it is anticipated that in the next 25 years there will be a 28 per cent growth in those aged between 60-69, and a 233per cent increase in over 90s.
In its report, Devon County Council sets out its intentions for public health, health improvement and health protection, listing 10 priorities for the next six years.
These include reducing rates of smoking, tackling weight problems, early diagnosis of disease and investing in the health and wellbeing of children.
Devon County Council’s cabinet member for health and wellbeing and chairman of Devon’s Health and Wellbeing Board, Andrea Davis, said Devon was a great place to live, but improvements could always be made.
“We’re very lucky here in Devon that we’re more likely to enjoy a longer, healthy life,” she said.
“However, there are always pockets of inequality, and our aim is to bring these areas into line with the rest of the county.”
“Devon has its unique set of challenges, an older population, a very geographically large rural area where people can become socially isolated or not have access to health services, so we need to make sure we are looking at these issues and addressing them through our public health role.”