Date Published: 16 February 2011
English North-South health divide widest for 40 years
The chances of dying early (under 75) since 1965 are a fifth higher in the north of England than the south, according to a recent study based on research conducted at Manchester University, England.
This research was published on bmj.com on Weds. 16th Feb 2011. An accompanying editorial says the "north-south health divide" is now at its widest for 40 years and warns that "the north is being decimated at the rate of a major city every decade".
The north-south health divide in England is well documented and has been described in terms of a "public health challenge" as well as a political and economic challenge. From 2003 to 2010, the UK government had performance targets for reducing geographical inequalities in health, but there has been little research of time trends in this divide.
Researchers at Manchester University and Manchester City Council compared death rates between the north and south of England over four decades. Manchester is a large city in the north of England and therefore in the "poorer" part of the "north-south health divide".
The researchers analysed deaths and population data for all residents each year from 1965 to 2008 from the five northernmost and four southernmost English regions. The results show that overall death rates have been 14% higher in the north over the four decades. This inequality was larger for men (15%) than for women (13%).
The north experienced a fifth more premature (under age 75) deaths than the south, and this figure changed little between 1965 and 2008. This north-south divide decreased significantly but temporarily for both sexes from the early 80s to the late 90s, followed by a steep rise from 2000 to 2008, despite government initiatives to reduce health inequalities over this period. Time trends also varied with age – most striking among the 20 to 34 age group, which saw a sharp rise (22%) in northern excess deaths from 1996 to 2008. The large north-south divide has persisted despite the fact that overall mortality in England has greatly reduced since 1965 - by about 50% for men and about 40% for women with north and south both experiencing similar reductions.
" These findings point towards a severe, long-term and recently worsening structural health problem in the geography of England, which may not have received the attention it requires from government policy and which has been resistant to specific policies to reduce inequalities in health or regenerate local communities," according to Professor Iain Buchan from the University of Manchester School of Community Based Medicine and Mr John Hacking from Manchester City Council's Joint Health Unit.
" More research is needed into: why policies to reduce such inequalities have failed; how the wider determinants of health may be unbalanced between north and south; and what role selective migration plays."
In an editorial also published today, Margaret Whitehead, Professor of Public Health at the University of Liverpool, and Tim Doran, Clinical Research Fellow at The University of Manchester, warn that future prospects look grim. They argue that deprived northern communities have "borne the brunt" of the current recession and that government spending cuts "will also hit hardest in the north".
This research received wide Regional and (UK) National coverage at the time of release.
See for example the BBC item at: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/health-12464427
Source: Manchester University, England (UK). - Press Release.