What Every Northerner Should Know About the North/South Health Gap

Everybody knows about the Gender Pay Gap – it’s well publicised and very much in the public domain for discussion – and too right! – How is this even still an issue? It it is quite simply wrong that women should earn less than men, any time, any place, end of discussion.

 

Well the same applies to the North-South Health Gap. What I find particularly irksome about this issue, is that people tend to roll their eyes and say that it’s all playing politics. No! No it isn’t. This is not about politics. This is about Social Justice!

 

It has been well documented that for over 40 years, the health of the people of the North of England has been significantly worse than that of people in the South and our life expectancy is worse. It is a complex issue and is highly linked to deprivation and poor housing conditions in the urban areas. The gap was narrowed during the early part of this century, but the health reforms made to the NHS have seen massive cuts to public health and social care budgets, disproportionately affecting the North. To make matters worse, the funding formula that is used by the Department of Health to determine how and where money should be spent, deliberately favours the rich and the well and and that means that head for head of population, the North does considerably worse than the South in terms of how much resource is made available. This is even true of how many staff are given proportionally to the North compared to the South. This is just ludicrous and is simply not fair. How can it make any sense at all to spend more money in areas where the population is more healthy and people have a significantly better overall life expectancy already? Are we to believe that Southerners are more important than Northerners, just as the pay gap would imply that men are more important than women?

 

The savings being asked of the Northern STPs (Sustainability and Transformation Plans) at a time in which we are already struggling with the huge cuts previously mentioned, and starting from a significant deficit in terms of our health outcomes, is meaning that the health and wellbeing of the people of the North will suffer further. I am not suggesting that we can not work more efficiently and collaboratively within the public services, nor am I suggesting that the people of the North do not need to take greater responsibility for our own health (although it is well known, that when you are more deprived, you are less likely to have the mental wellbeing to make positive choices about your own health). What I am saying is this: whatever the budget allocations may be; let them be fair!

 

Yes, it is time for us to tackle the health problems across the North, and we will do so together as the people. Maybe we don’t have carte blanche any more and have to reassess what we think might be available in terms of health care provision. But what we would like is to be able to make this journey by starting on a basis of equality with the South. No more North-South divide. No more unfair funding calculations. No more political games. Social-Health Justice for all, now.

 

For further information, you can read:

https://academic.oup.com/jpubhealth/article/37/1/34/1556643/Grim-up-North-or-Northern-grit-Recessions-and-the

https://www.kingsfund.org.uk/sites/files/kf/field/field_publication_file/inequalities-in-life-expectancy-kings-fund-aug15.pdf#page2

http://councilportal.cumbria.gov.uk/documents/s50047/STP%20April%20submission%20for%20Lancashire%20and%20South%20Cumbria.pdf?nobdr=2

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Reimagining Medical Education

imagesWe’ve got a problem (well 4 actually), when it comes to medical education! The first is this: Jeremy Hunt is promising loads of new places at medical school – I know this doesn’t sound like a problem, it sounds like a solution. But the truth is, once you actually do some number crunching, the new places won’t even account for the losses we will have due to retirement over the next 10 years, let alone account for the increased need there is in the system. So…..we’re still going to be short of doctors. Unfortunately – there isn’t a political appetite to increase these numbers further, and with our exit from the EU we’re genuinely facing an ongoing crisis.

 

The next problem is therefore that we need to restructure our workforce in quite aimages.jpg creative way, to work more smartly and differently, with a flexible workforce, but due to the pressures upon the system, there is little room for people to put much time or imagination into this and there is also a huge leap of faith involved. There is simply not the evidence base in place to support the leap we are asking GPs, in particular, to take in restructuring their practices and not replace GPs with GPs, but with combinations of paramedics, advanced practitioners, physician assistants, physics, mental health workers, health coaches and the like. However, the issue is that the system finds itself, like Indiana Jones, at the edge of a cliff, with no way back and the only thing for it is to step into the unknown and hope that God supplies the stepping stones…..Those in leadership positions are going to have be given space and grace to try some things, get it wrong and try again……One of the vital things that will be involved is proper engagement with the communities we serve. Clinicians and the general population need to have a better and deeper understanding of one another. There is a huge language void to be bridged and a collaboration that is needed in understanding how services can be more helpfully redesigned for the benefit of everybody. It also means where there are are difficult decisions to be made, there are no cloak and daggers or suspicion, but honest, open communication in the light of day that builds trust and partnership.

 

Our third issue is that with the vast increase in hyper-specialism and the loss of generalism from training programmes after qualification. Rural and remote places in particular are unable to get the staff mix necessary to run successful and safe services. This is due to a lack of foresight from centralised diktats and various guidance from NICE and the Royal Colleges that favours this approach. Health Education England must be brave enough to allow areas to be innovative in the training they provide. Our needs in Morecambe Bay are utterly different to those of Nottingham or Central London and we need new training programmes that will cater for this.

 

images.jpgFourthly, our medical schools are delivering a curriculum, designed centrally but based on yesterdays NHS. There is not enough creative vision around the curriculum to build the right kind of future doctors. There is still far too much focus on illness and disease and no where near enough thought or teaching about wellness, healthy lifestyles, nutrition and non-pharmacological options. The role of the future doctor is much more population focused and digitally savvy. It is our medical schools more than anywhere else that carry the responsibility to ensure the future NHS is catered for. We need a radical shake up in medical education and some brave people to rewrite the curriculum that will enable medical schools to be more creative and engaging in helping to raise the doctors we need for the future.

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