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Closing the gap in health inequalities

19th December 2011

The need to redirect resources to improve the health of a growing number of deprived people living in the Highlands emerged from a major debate by Highland Councillors on health inequalities.

The Highland Council and NHS Highland have a joint annual spending power of more than 1 billion and councillors felt there was adequate scope to identify monies within the joint budgets to target resources to improve the health and wellbeing of those most in need.

The debate followed a presentation by Dr Margaret Somerville, Director of Public Health for the Highlands, whose annual report focused on current activities to reduce the widening gap of health inequalities.

She highlighted that deprivation is a significant factor in health inequalities. Poorer people tend to have poorer health and shorter life expectancy.
The Council heard that in the Highlands there were now 16 places within 15% most deprived in Scotland and four of these within the 5% most deprived in Scotland. They are in Inverness (parts of the Merkinch and South Kessock) and in Wick (Pultneytown South).

Adverse health outcomes could be addressed by targeted interventions, such as smoking cessation and nutrition programmes, but a more sustainable approach was required which supports a better lifestyle and fairer opportunities. This would involve training, work experience and employability schemes.

The meeting welcomed a range of initiatives currently being promoted to tackle disadvantage and target inequalities but it was recognised that a new approach was needed.

Council Leader Michael Foxley said the growing gap in health inequalities needed the most urgent attention. The fact that someone living in an area of deprivation had a life expectancy of 14 years less than someone living in a middle-class environment was unacceptable.

Budget Leader David Alston said a priority for the Council and NHS Highland had to be tackling disadvantage and reducing health inequalities. The agencies were the biggest employers in the Highlands with a joint budget of more than 1 billion. "The challenge facing us is to redirect our resources to ensure we significantly close the gap."