Over 350 leaders from across the region met this week to demand reducing health inequalities for the communities they serve.
Leaders met virtually at a North East and North Cumbria Health Inequalities Summit – the first of its kind for the region.
The event welcomed a host of delegates who logged on to hear from key speakers Sir Liam Donaldson – Chair of the Integrated Care System for the North East and North Cumbria, Professor Peter Kelly, Regional Director of Public Health for the Office for Health Improvements and Disparities and Dr Bola Owolabi, Director of Health Inequalties for NHS England/Improvement.
Opened by Julie Gillon, Senior Responsible Officer for health inequalities for the region and Chief Executive of North Tees and Hartlepool NHS Foundation Trust, she explained how COVID-19 had exposed and widened existing health inequalities.
Speaking after the event, Julie said: “I am honoured and privileged to have hosted the first of what I know will be many events of this kind.
“The inequalities we see in our region are unacceptable – COVID-19 only exposed and amplified this further. The gap between health outcomes in different areas is too high.
“We owe it to our society to change. This is a movement. Leaders from across our region are coming together and demanding change. It is down to us all to help drive this forward.”
Theories of thinking
The event included a keynote speech from Sir Ian Donaldson who spoke about two theories of thinking.
The first was the Townsend Index, which is a measure and score of deprivation looking at four variables – unemployment, non-car ownership, non-home ownership and household overcrowding.
The second was about ‘allostatic load’ – which reflects the effect of experiences in daily life involve long-standing life situations as well as major challenges.
Sir Liam told the event: “I am delighted to join this region – it feels like joining a football team already with a wealth of star players available.
“I will fly the flag for this region – the health system here can count on that.”
Sir Peter Kelly, Regional Director of Public Health for the Office for Health Improvements and Disparities, also made some startling observations.
He told delegates “the reality of life expectancy in the North East for men is comparable with that of the 1950s”.
He also included figures about attendances in emergency care – which are significantly higher in this region.
Four other presenters also followed – including: Becky Elton, deputy chief executive from Changing Lives, who talked about challenging inequality for people with disadvantages; Dr Venu Manikavasagar from Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Gateshead and Dr Samuel Dale from Northumbria Specialist Emergency Care who spoke about a special COVID-19 infographic they created and the role of information accessibility; Julie Tucker from the regional Learning and Disability Network included details about cancer awareness for the learning disability community; and Daniel Ahmed, clinical partner from Foundations, spoke about the challenge of substance users and tackling it.
And finally, the highly respected Dr Bola Owalabi, director for health inequalities at NHS England, spoke powerfully about regional issues.
In her speech, she described the North East as a “trailblazer nationally in the sheer volume of work which is underway to help tackle health inequalities”.
Speaking after the event, Julie Gillon added: “This event is just the beginning – it was the first summit of so many individuals and organisations all determined to make real impactful change for our region.
“Our communities need to know we are doing our utmost to bridge these health gaps, improve people’s lives and improve health outcomes.”