The mission to get Blackpool healthier

Tackling obesity is a real problem. Below: Dr Arif Rajpura, director of public health for Blackpool.

Tackling obesity is a real problem. Below: Dr Arif Rajpura, director of public health for Blackpool.

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Health bosses in Blackpool say they have been working on trying to tackle the higher risk of dying early in Blackpool – but admit more needs to be done.

The resort made national headlines yesterday when a map called Longer Lives, from Public Health England, showed the town was second worst in the country for early deaths overall and highest for premature deaths from lung disease and liver disease.

Dr Arif Rajpura, director of public health for Blackpool.

Dr Arif Rajpura, director of public health for Blackpool.

It has an overall rate of 432.4 premature deaths per 100,000 – putting it second just behind Manchester.

Blackpool’s poor health statistics will come as no surprise to many living here, as its shocking record on health has been laid bare before.

Health bosses say there are several causes for the depressing figures.

Dr Arif Rajpura, director of public health with Blackpool Council, said: “It comes as no surprise to us. We have high levels of deprivation in Blackpool and high levels of deprivation are classically linked with high levels of smoking, alcohol, poor diet.

“We also know Blackpool has a high level of transience.

“Where you have houses of multiple occupancy, that brings individuals in with their social and health problems. Blackpool is a sort of net importer of ill-health from other areas.”

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THE STATISTICS

• Overall premature deaths

Blackpool 149 out of 150 local authorities

Blackpool population: 142,080

Total premature deaths – before the age of 75: 2,141

Highest: Mancheser – 455

Blackpool – 432

Lowest: Wokingham – 200

• Cancer

Highest: Manchester – 116

Blackpool – 101

Lowest: Wokingham – 40

• Lung disease

Highest: Blackpool – 62

Lowest: Bromley – 14

• Liver disease

Highest: Blackpool – 39

Lowest: Waltham Forest – 15

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Health secretary Jeremy Hunt described the figures as ‘shocking’ and said people’s lives were being “needlessly cut short and that cannot continue unchecked.”

Work has already been going on in Blackpool to tackle many of the lifestyle factors causing the high number of unnecessary deaths.

And the area’s Clinical Commissioning Group, the body which ‘buys’ health services for local people – made up of GPs and other health professionals – named tackling health inequalities as one of its top priorities.

Dr Rajpura said: “We have been trying to provide help to people with the Stop Smoking Service and in GP surgeries. We have initiatives to tackle alcohol and are looking at other methods, such as early morning restriction and a minimum alcohol pricing local bylaw.

“We do have to get the right messages out there. Local authorities have to play our part and we have to lobby the Government over issues like the advertising of alcohol and fast food and sugar – a sweetened beverage tax.

“We all have a role to play.”

WE ASKED YOU VIEWS

Gazette reporter Stephanie Shaw took to the streets of Blackpool to ask residents in the town what they think of the findings...

Valerie McCausland, 69, says:

“It’s living conditions – people can’t afford to eat the right thing, do the right thing. People can’t afford to pay for children to go swimming.

“There’s an awful lot of drinkers in Blackpool. Parents still smoke in cars with their children in the back, they think opening a window makes a difference.

“They tried to remedy it by banning smoking in pubs. I used to smoke, but that was before I knew it was bad for me. It seems that the less money people have, the more they drink and smoke.”

James Lavin, 77, with wife Joyce Lavin, 69, say:

“We’re fairly healthy – we eat well most of the time. Sometimes a bottle of red wine.

“It’s not the air that’s the problem, people with TB used to be sent to Blackpool to get good air in their lungs.

“We don’t over-eat, but some do.”

Shelly Knight, 42, says:

“I don’t know how people afford drinking and smoking.

“I have two teenagers and a child in primary school. I think schools could warn them more of the dangers that come from drinking and smoking.

“ I also think it has got to do with upbringing.”

Richard Nay, 52, says:

“Diet is a big thing. There’s a lack of health in young people.

“We need parenting skills to get kids motivated. It’s just as important to teach how to read and write than about health education.

“I’m not a smoker, but I think the smoking ban has had a reverse effect.

“I work in care, dealing with children from ages 11-16 – there’s not one that doesn’t smoke.”

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How much is toll of liver disease really costing us?

Doctors in Blackpool who deal with the effects of the area’s high rates of liver disease say the sad fact is they are seeing more people and younger people die from the condition.

Blackpool has the highest rates of early deaths from the condition in the country.

As part of his role Dr Chris Shorrock, consultant gastroenterologist at Blackpool Victoria Hospital, treats patients with liver disease.

He said: “More and more people are dying from liver disease, not just in Blackpool but as a nation.

“Patients who die from heart or lung problems are on average in their 80s, but the average age for people to die from liver disease is 59.

“Since 2003, there has been a five-fold increase in people aged between 35 and 55 with cirrhosis.

“I have a female patient currently on one of the wards, who is 27 years old and has end stage cirrhosis, she is dying from this liver problem.

“It’s a horrible illness, the liver is pivotal and if the liver is affected, it will affect the other internal organs.

“The big message is a lot of cases are preventable as they are caused by alcohol or fatty liver disease – a result of diet and obesity. Another cause is Hepatitis C, which again can be linked to lifestyle with intravenous drug use.

“People do need to take responsibility for their own lifestyle, because a lot of liver disease is preventable.

“Unless people do, things are just going to get worse.”

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