Poorer Derry citizens dying younger and inequality widening

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Women and men living in Derry’s and Strabane’s poorest neighbourhoods continue to die years earlier than their wealthier counterparts, according to a new report from the Department of Health.

And, alarmingly, health inequality in the city is widening across several key measures, the newly-published ‘Health Inequalities Annual Report 2018’ has revealed.

SDLP health spokesman Mark. H. Durksan believes it is unacceptable such wide disparities in health outcomes persist.

“This report illustrates the clear link between deprivation and poor health. It is incredible in a place as small as Northern Ireland that there are such disparities between Council areas,” said the Foyle MLA.

The figures are stark. The DoH report shows female life expectancy in the 20 per cent poorest areas of Derry and Strabane is now 78.3 years. That’s 3.6 years less than the projected lifetime of the average Derry woman, (81.9 years). Poorer Derry men, meanwhile, can expect to live to 72.5 years, 5.1 years fewer than the 77.6 average in Derry and Strabane.

The study also reveals that the extent to which people in more deprived areas of Derry are sicker, die younger and perform less well than their better-off fellow citizens is more marked across 31 key indicators than the average across the North.

Large inequality gaps relating to suicide and respiratory mortality among the under 75s were recorded in Derry and Strabane, for example, and the difference in hospital admission and death rates for alcohol-related conditions between poorer people and weathier people is also wider in Derry.

Furthemore, the difference between breastfeeding rates among new mothers and obesity rates among first year pupils from poorer areas and rates among those living in less deprived areas, shows a higher degree of inequality in Derry.

Worryingly, it’s getting worse. The health inequality gap in Derry and Strabane is actually widening when female life expectancy at age 65, drug-related admissions, lung cancer incidence and mortality and smoking related mortality, are considered.

The largest inequality gaps in Derry were manifest in higher rates of death from alcohol-related illnesses, higher rates of admission to hospital for self-harming or drug-related illnesses, and higher rates of death from respiratory conditions, among people from poorer areas. Specifically, the rate of death from drink-related conditions in the fifth most deprived areas of Derry and Strabane was 149 per cent that of the district average.

For alcohol-related admissions to hospital the rate in poorer areas was 136 per cent that of the Derry and Strabane average, for drug-related admissions the figure was 119 per cent, for self-harm related admissions it was 97 per cent, and for deaths from respiratory conditions among the under 75s it was 94 per cent.

There was some good news, however, in that the health inequality gap is narrowing in terms of drug-related mortality and primary 1 obesity.

Mr. Durkan said: “The fact that more of these gaps seem to be widening rather than narrowing might explain why the Department has published this report with so little fanfare. It is clear that ,in the past five years, there has not been sufficient focus on bridging these gaps and ensuring better health outcomes.”

Mr. Durkan said blame for the persistent inequality could not be laid solely at the door of DoH, claiming the Executive had collectively failed Derry by failing to tackle poverty and that this had had major implications as evidenced in the report.

“Failure to create and support jobs, failure to address the housing crisis,failure to invest in and deliver adequate preventative health measures.

“These figures make a compelling and irrefutable case for more investment in this area and meaningful interventions to create employment as prosperity. Some of these potential interventions have been painfully obvious for a long time and many are included in the SDLP City Deal plan. We will continue to demand their implementation,” he added.