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Health inequalities are holding back Yorkshire, here’s how we tackle them

Written by: Richard Stubbs - 7th March 2024

Access to health and opportunities for employment should not be dependent on postcodes in 2024 – but sadly that is not the case in Yorkshire. The health and economic inequalities between our region and other parts of the country have been exacerbated by COVID-19, worrying when the UK overall faces the prospect of sluggish growth.

Yorkshire has the third lowest life expectancy in England for men and women and the third lowest percentage of people in employment. We’re above the English average for the number of overweight and obese adults and are the fourth lowest region for physical activity, while having the fourth highest rate of smoking prevalence.

Yorkshire is facing major challenges, but our region also offers the solutions that could benefit the whole of the UK.

There has been investment in our region, like the West Yorkshire Investment Zone, which is focused on HealthTech and could unlock £220m extra investment. Yet despite the positive progress, the dial is still moving in the wrong direction.

The strength of our region’s health and life science sector, part of a Northern life science economy worth £13.4bn a year, is hugely positive both in terms of employment but also innovation.

We have thriving partnerships between local government, businesses and our universities – many borne out of a collective response to the pandemic. Lessons learned here can be scaled up and applied elsewhere. Our region can be a test bed for piloting new approaches and innovations.

That partnership working is exemplified in our new white paper, Empowering local places for health and prosperity: new perspectives from Yorkshire and the Humber, mapping out what needs to happen to close that inequality gap.

The white paper, produced by Health Innovation Yorkshire & Humber, Yorkshire Universities and the NHS Confederation, shows many of the ingredients Yorkshire needs to achieve this are already here. From the forthcoming National Health Innovation Centre at the University of Huddersfield to the Humber and North Yorkshire Centre for Tobacco Control in Hull, our region is at the heart of transformative research benefitting the whole country.

Innovative facilities like the NHS Community Diagnostic Centre in Barnsley and the Olympic Legacy Park in Sheffield are having a day-to-day effect on people’s health.

And a great example of partnership working is the Yorkshire & Humber Policy Engagement & Research Network (Y-PERN) which brings together Yorkshire’s local and combined authorities with researchers at the region’s universities to develop inclusive local economic strategies.

But we require more devolved powers, flexible investment and targeted solutions to enable Yorkshire to really meet the needs of its local communities.

Locally-led solutions deliver better outcomes, as we’ve seen here in Yorkshire and elsewhere.

Empowering local leaders is the best way to make a real difference across the country.

But leaders can’t do it alone. Partnerships across the region are needed to make real change possible, not just between local government and the health service but involving businesses, universities and sporting bodies.

With meaningful devolution we can enhance partnerships to build a strong regional economy and healthy working environments.

This blog was initially published by the Yorkshire Post as an OpEd on 29 February 2024.