Suffolk’s most affluent living seven years longer than county’s most deprived
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People living in Suffolk’s most affluent areas are living between four and seven years longer than those in deprived areas of the county, new figures have warned
The Annual Public Health Report 2018, which is published today, has revealed stark figures over life expectancy, as health chiefs this year focus on end of life care.
For men in Suffolk’s affluent areas, the average life expectancy is 7.3 years more than in the county’s most deprived areas, while the inequality gap is 4.3 years for women.
The report’s data said there is evidence to indicate that this inequality is increasing.
Councillor James Reeder, Suffolk County Council’s cabinet member for health, said: “The whole inequality is something that we and my colleagues, and professionals, everyday are trying to eliminate, and wherever we can make end of life the best for wherever you stand in the community is what we’re about.”
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Figures published in the report highlight that men in the county live for an average of 80 years while women live for an average 84 years – both one year more than the national average – but each have an average of 15 years at the end of their lives in poor or declining health – two-to-three years longer in poor health than the national average.
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Public health bosses admitted that it could put a strain on a host of different health services as people spend longer in declining health, including GPs, hospitals and other care organisations.
“That’s what we are all about with Suffolk trying to be the most active county, to make sure people are keeping healthy as best they can, and enjoy their extended life,” Mr Reeder said. “That’s what public health is all about, ensuring people do keep as healthy as possible.”
Ending the taboo
With the data painting a stark picture of life expectancy in Suffolk, and the challenges health organisations are facing, Mr Reeder and the public health team is now calling on people to be open to talking about dying.
“End of life is about dying with dignity, being comfortable, pain free, those are the things we want for everybody and that’s what when it comes to our time, what we want. You’ve got to plan for that because it isn’t going to just happen,” Mr Reeder said.
He added: “It’s more than the medical profession supporting somebody through their end of life.
“If the family don’t know what the wishes of that person are, they are not going to be able to carry them out.”
In a bid to encourage people to be prepared, the team has called on families to make sure they have an up-to-date will, and to begin talking to loved ones about their wishes for when they are in declining health – be it end of life care, funeral wishes and organ donation.
Mr Reeder said it was often a difficult subject to talk about, particularly when grieving families were not able to think at their clearest, but hoped to end the taboo around it.
“If we can see and hear people talking about it as they now talk about sexual health compared to where they were 10/15 years ago, and mental health as well,” he said.
“Mental health was something that 10 years ago, five years ago, seven years ago was not talked about.
“We are not there yet, but we are certainly very much more open, and people are prepared to talk about it.
“That can only be a good thing, so if the same trajectory can be for end of life care as those two health conditions have grown then that will be a measure of success.”
Alongside the bid to get people talking about dying, health chiefs are also encouraging people to consider organ donation.
The health bodies involved recognised it was “virtually impossible” to discuss organ donation with a family who had just lost a relative, but pointed to the 600 people in Suffolk alive thanks to organ donation as key.
Mr Reeder said: “That is something if you don’t talk about it at an early stage is extremely difficult to talk about when someone has died.
“We know that 600 people in Suffolk are living now because of organ donation, and it is absolutely an opportunity to talk about it so that families don’t have that really, really difficult conversation when someone has died.
“Particularly if somebody has died in tragic circumstances, an accident or what have you, trying to have that conversation then is virtually impossible.”
In the last five years the number of people on the organ donor register has increased by 30% in Suffolk, according to the county council’s data.