COALFIELD communities face significant health problems and economic difficulties even decades after pit closures, according to new research.

Health problems including long-term limiting illnesses such as chronic arthritis, asthma and back problems are significantly more likely in some of these areas.

Targeted regeneration could be key to boosting their recovery, the Durham University-led study said today.

The findings reinforce calls for increased and more focussed Government assistance, particularly in poorer, predominantly rural coalfield communities.

Co-author of the Durham study, Professor Sarah Curtis, said: "Some mining communities have struggled and need more assistance, whilst others have fared quite well, demonstrating considerable resilience in the wake of the huge job losses that affected these regions."

The results, published in the journal Health and Place, also reveal that some less-deprived coalfield areas are faring relatively well in terms of health.

That some of these areas have weathered the economic storm better in terms of health, the study said suggested regeneration efforts and the resilience of local communities may be helpful for health and wellbeing, as well as for the economy and jobs.

Researchers at Durham University's Institute of Hazard, Risk and Resilience, Dalhousie University, Canada, and Teesside University, surveyed 26,100 people including 4,750 from the country's 55 coalfield areas for the study.

They found people living in coalfield communities were 27 per cent more likely to report having a limiting long-term illness.

Between 1984 and 1997, 170,000 people lost their jobs in coalmining as pits closed across England and male employment in the English coalfield areas fell by 25 per cent.

Pit closures left coalfield communities with problems including environmental degradation, economic disadvantage, social deprivation and poor health.

These have been exacerbated in some places by isolation, poor road access and inadequate infrastructures.

The Government has launched a £30 million fund to provide assistance over two years via the Coalfields Regeneration Trust (CRT).

Andy Lock, assistant director of the Coalfields Regeneration Trust said: "We know that health problems are still very severe in some places and our challenge from Government is to continue to address health inequalities."