STARK health inequalities facing people in parts of the region have been laid bare in a new report which shows people in the country’s poorest areas work longer hours and live shorter lives.

MPs and medical experts studied the impact of poor health for those living in so-called ‘left behind’ neighbourhoods and their findings make uncomfortable reading for the North East.

The region fares badly time and again in the report, which is published today by the All-Parliamentary Party Group for ‘left behind’ neighbourhoods and the Northern Health Science Alliance, and MPs say it must be a catalyst for change.

People living in those neighbourhoods, with high deprivation and a lack of social infrastructure such as transport and spaces to meet, not only die younger than residents of wealthier areas, but they also spend more years in ill-health.

That costs the nation’s economy £29.8bn a year in lost productivity.

People living in these communities were also 46 per cent more likely to die from Covid-19.

County Durham has the highest number of ‘left behind neighbourhoods’ in England, with 16, and 29.9 per cent of working-age people in Horden, in the east of the county, have a limiting long-term illness which is twice as many as the national average.

On Teesside, the all-cause mortality rate in Stockton Town Centre is more than double the national average at 221.8 per 100,000 and as few as 12.3 per cent of people in Grangetown, Middlesbrough, regularly eat five or more portions of fruit and vegetables a day.

Easington MP Grahame Morris said the report “reiterates what we already know, deprivation leads to shorter, harder and less healthy lives” and people in poorer neighbourhoods are “denied basic life chances in education, employment and cannot fully participate in society”.

Like other MPs in the region, he said it is now vital that the report brings about urgent action to reverse inequalities.

Mr Morris said: “The Government promise to level-up but we can all see that regional economies such as the North East and particularly former coalfield communities are falling further behind the rest of the UK.

“The policy prescriptions over the last decade from Tory governments have cut and held back opportunity and our country and community are paying a heavy price for these failings.

“If we are going to give our children the best chance in life and break the spiral of deprivation, the Government need to invest in the building blocks of a good society, health, housing, education and employment.

“There is immense untapped potential in regional economies that cannot be realised until we receive the investment and interest from Central Government to restore the North East to its rightful place as an economic powerhouse for industry, manufacturing and exports.”

Sharon Hodgson, MP for Washington and Sunderland West and officer of the APPG for ‘left behind’ neighbourhoods, said: “The findings of this report not only highlight the health inequalities faced by people living in ‘left behind’ neighbourhoods but show how essential it is that we act immediately to stop them falling further behind.

“People should be able to access a range of health services in their local area, from informal services and drop-ins to more specialist help but investment is desperately needed, alongside trust in local people to know what is best for their area.”

Sedgefield MP Paul Howell, who co-chaired the APPG, said: “Health is at the forefront of all our minds right now. The findings from this report are clear, people living in ‘left behind’ neighbourhoods are overall worse off when it comes to health and something needs to change.

“It is essential we take the action needed to make sure people living in these neighbourhoods do not continue to suffer from poor health so that they can reach their full potential and have the same opportunities as those living elsewhere, now and in the future.”

The report authors made a series of recommendations including to develop a national ‘levelling up’ strategy to reduce health inequalities, increased NHS funding in more deprived areas and putting community engagement at the heart of health delivery so people who know what their areas need can help shape initiatives and infrastructure.

It cited work in Darlington, one of ten areas to take part in the NHS’s Healthy New Towns initiative between 2016 and 2019.

Different organisations worked together to put health and care at the heart of new development helping shape housing schemes, GP services and local masterplans.

Lead author Dr Luke Munford is a lecturer in health economics at the University of Manchester and comes from Shildon, in County Durham.

He said: “We have shown here that if we can improve their health, there is considerable economic and social gains to be made, which will not only improve the quality of life of these people but also considerably boost the national economy.”

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