Experts join forces to tackle ‘entrenched’ North/South health inequality

Over half of the North now has a lower life expectancy than the worst area in the South

Researchers from health charities, NHS bodies and more than 20 northern universities are forming a new alliance to solve the widening health gap between the North and the rest of England.

The Northern Universities’ Public Health Alliance (NUPHA) will investigate the reality behind new figures showing that in two thirds (66 per cent) of areas in the North, women’s life expectancy is lower than the South’s lowest female life expectancy.

The data also revealed that men in 86 per cent of Northern councils are expected to die younger than England’s average, rising to 88 per cent for women.

Newcastle University’s Professor David Burn, chair of the Northern Health Science Alliance, said the health inequalities across the North are “entrenched and worsening”.

A third of the productivity gap between the North and the rest of the UK is due to ill health, losing £13.2bn from the economy each year.

Professor Burn added: “Tackling the North’s ill health is vital to growing a vibrant UK economy – an investment in the health of the North is an investment in the entire country, equipping it to move forward into a truly vibrant 21st century economy.”

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NUPHA will build on the work of the Due North report, commissioned by Public Health England (PHE) and published in 2014. An independent panel of leading academics, policy makers and practitioners examined the root causes of health inequalities in the north – highlighting the need to improve the social, health and economic circumstances of many in order to tackle the problem.

Professor Paul Johnstone, regional director for PHE North, said the North has been lagging behind the rest of the country in both health and economy.

In a full statement from NUPHA upon its launch, academics said the regional health gap is compounded by inequalities in the NHS and lower research funding received by the North than the South.

They pointed out that southern regions get more than four times as much funding for research and development – equating to £21.95 per head in the North compared to £51.02 per head elsewhere.

Arpana Verma, founding member of NUPHA and a clinical professor of public health and epidemiology, said the pioneering new study will allow experts to focus on working with deprived communities while they collaborate with local government and the NHS.

Research published in 2017 showed a sharp increase in premature deaths among middle aged adults in the North; this uptick was first noted in the mid-90s and has been increasing consistently ever since.