Early deaths: Regional variations 'shocking' - Hunt

The local variation in early death rates revealed in a new league table for England is "shocking" and must drive action to improve health, Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt has said.

Public Health England's Longer Lives website, which ranks local authorities, shows people in north-west England are at the greatest risk of dying early.

Mr Hunt said the data could be used to tackle smoking, drinking and obesity.

Labour called for a "One Nation approach" to end health inequalities.

The league table uses a colour system to rate areas tackling premature deaths from red for the worst to green for the best, comparing the number of people under the age of 75 who died over a two-year period.

A statement from the Department of Health said the data would "provide local areas with information to help them understand their own position" and target specific health challenges.

In April, councils became responsible for encouraging people to stop smoking, eat better, drink less alcohol and face up to other public health problems.


Around 153,000 people die prematurely each year in England, with three quarters of those deaths down to cancer, heart attack or stroke, lung disease and liver disease - according to Public Health England.

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Media captionHealth Secretary Jeremy Hunt: "There are some big surprises in the data"

Manchester, Blackpool, Liverpool and Salford have the highest rates of early deaths, the figures show.

Socio-economic background plays a large part in life expectancy and is part of the explanation of the regional divide.

The new analysis also allows councils to compare themselves with others with a similar background.

York is classed as a "least deprived" area and appears green at a national level, yet it comes bottom when compared with other "least deprived" districts.

Waltham Forest in London is among the 15 most deprived areas, yet ranks 73rd out of 150 councils.

Of the early deaths, 103,000 are classed as preventable. The hope is that councils can learn from each other to reduce deaths in their area.

Commenting on the data, Public Health England's Prof John Newton said the premature mortality figures had improved, but the UK was still seventh out of 17 European countries for men and 15th for women.

Prof Newton told the BBC there were many factors at play.

"Although our behaviours have an impact, and we all need to take responsibility for our own health, you have to see the social, economic, cultural context and you also have to look at the environment - housing, education, transport - all of those have an effect on our health," he said.

"So it's no one thing in isolation, and that's why so many different organisations have to take note of this data, and think about what they can do."

Mr Hunt said: "This shocking variation in early and unnecessary deaths means people's lives are needlessly cut short, and that cannot continue unchecked.

"I want areas to use the data released today to identify local public health challenges like smoking, drinking and obesity and to take action to help achieve our ambition for saving 30,000 lives a year by 2020."

He said the "profound" differences between similar areas showed that councils could learn from each other.

He told the BBC: "If you compare for example two leafy commuter counties like Hertfordshire and Surrey, what you find surprisingly is that the mortality rate in Hertfordshire is 10% higher than Surrey, so if they just matched the Surrey mortality rate in Hertfordshire they'd actually save more than 200 lives every year."

He said banning fizzy drinks in schools was an issue "local authorities should look at".

Local authorities are being given £5.4bn over two years for public health.

The Local Government Association said the analysis would provide "useful insight," but it urged caution.

Cllr Zoe Patrick, chairwoman of the organisation's community wellbeing board, said: "Using it out of context to create any sort of national league table dangerously oversimplifies matters and ignores the very complex socio-economic and cultural factors that affect the premature mortality rate.

"Attempts to measure performance and rank councils in this way are therefore deeply troubling. Not to mention that improving the public's health is not the sole responsibility of local government. We need to work with our partners in the NHS, PHE and central government to address a whole range of inequalities and issues in order to help everyone lead healthier lives.

"Government must make a long-term commitment to public health and provide councils with the right resources if we are going to have a real impact."

Labour's shadow public health minister, Diane Abbott, said: "There can be no more chilling form of inequality than someone's social status at birth determining the timing of their death - and that is why Labour is putting our mission to tackle health inequalities at the heart of our approach to public health."

"We need a One Nation approach to public health," she added.

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