Statistics ‘vital to boost health’
Wednesday 18th September 2013, 11:50AM BST.
Experts said analysis of statistics needs to continue to help boost people’s health amid concerns at cuts being considered at the Office of National Statistics (ONS).
A public consultation is under way examining how the ONS can save around £9 million this year and next in the face of “significant funding pressures”.
Up to £1 million will need to come from reducing a number of its statistical outputs, including those relating to births, deaths, life expectancy and health inequalities.
But Dr John Middleton, vice president for policy at the Faculty of Public Health, said cutting analysis of vital data could lead to a widening gap between the “health haves and health have nots”.
His comments came as the ONS released its latest figures showing that the affluent London borough of Richmond upon Thames has the highest healthy life expectancy (HLE) for men and women in England.
Men and women in the area have a HLE of 70.3 years and 72.1 years respectively.
The lowest HLE was in Manchester for men at 55 years and Tower Hamlets for women at 54.1 years – a 15-year gap compared to Richmond upon Thames.
Dr Middleton said: “The kind of data that is published today may not be available in years to come.
“The Office for National Statistics is having to consider cutting programmes that measure this vital information.
“We need to keep monitoring as much as we can about our health so that we can continue to improve it.
“Otherwise, the gaps between the ‘health haves’ and ‘health have nots’ will continue to get wider.”
Around 80% of the ONS’ output is required by law.
The ONS said in a statement: “The consultation includes a limited number of non-statutory outputs … only some of which would have to be reduced in order to make the required savings.
“In many cases alternative statistics on these subjects will continue to be available, although these may be published less frequently or in less detail.”
The latest ONS figures relate to HLE at birth for upper tier local authorities in England between 2009 and 2011, and point to a North-South divide in both life expectancy and HLE for men and women.
Analysis showed that HLE in the North East was significantly lower than all other regions, and that there was a clear gender difference.
In every local authority analysed, life expectancy was longer for women than for men.
The smallest gender gap existed in Rutland, with women expected to live 1.9 years longer than men.
The ONS said that the area with the highest gender inequality in life expectancy was Blackpool where women could expect to live an extra 6.2 years.
Dr Middleton said: “These figures are an important part of a bigger picture of data that tells us why some people live longer than others.
“We know that healthy life expectancy is determined by our chances of being in a job, living in decent housing and having an adequate income.
“Clearly having a healthy lifestyle makes a big difference, but so does being in employment.
“There are also variations within towns and cities.
“Parts of Manchester will have better results than others, and there may well be places near Richmond where people do not fare as well as these figures suggest.”
A Department of Health spokesman said: “These figures highlight that we must continue to work to narrow the gap in health inequalities because everyone should have the same opportunity to lead a healthy life, no matter where they live or who they are.
“The Health and Social Care Act sets out the first ever specific legal duties on health inequalities for NHS England, clinical commissioning groups, and for the Secretary of State.
“Local councils have received ring-fenced budgets to help local people get healthier and to reduce health inequalities.”
Michelle Mitchell, charity director-general at Age UK, said: “These figures reveal the huge variations in the health of older people across England.
“It’s further evidence that wealthier parts of the country have significantly more older people in good health than poorer areas.
“These glaring health inequalities must be tackled urgently, particularly as the Government is contemplating further increases to the state pension age.
“Otherwise the situation could easily arise where the average person in many areas will not enjoy any retirement in good health.”