Health expert tells MPs action must be taken on growing life expectancy inequality in Northumberland

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A leading health expert has called attention to the growing disparity in life expectancy between the richest and poorest people in Northumberland and called for the county’s MPs to take action.

Professor Sir Michael Marmot of University College London told dozens of MPs, including all four in Northumberland, that their constituents are "suffering avoidable ill-health and living shorter lives than they should."

New analysis by UCL’s Institute of Health Equity shows the difference in life expectancy of the least and most deprived female residents in Northumberland has grown by 3.9 years, from six in 2010-12 to 9.9 in 2017-19.

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The gap between the county’s richest and poorest male residents has grown by 2.2 years in the same period, because it was before the Covid-19 pandemic’s profound effect on life expectancy figures.

All four Northumberland MPs were written to. (Photo by National World/Getty Images)All four Northumberland MPs were written to. (Photo by National World/Getty Images)
All four Northumberland MPs were written to. (Photo by National World/Getty Images)

In all, Sir Michael wrote to 58 MPs with constituencies in the worst-affected local areas, including Conservatives Anne-Marie Trevelyan of Berwick-upon-Tweed, Guy Opperman of Hexham, and Ian Levy of Blyth Valley, as well as Labour’s Ian Lavery of Wansbeck.

He wrote: "We need you to fight for all your constituents’ health. They are suffering avoidable ill-health and living shorter lives than they should due to poor policies and cuts to essential services.”

Sir Michael has also written to the leaders of major political parties. In his letter to Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, Sir Michael said austerity and funding cuts have "harmed health and worsened health inequalities".

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Guy Opperman declined to comment on the analysis when approached by the Northumberland Gazette. The area’s other MPs did respond.

Ian Levy said he hoped that more recent figures would show an improvement if adjusted for the pandemic’s impact. He said: "I have always thought the differences in life expectancy between our communities were shocking and that was one of the reasons I got involved in politics.

“We must continue to do all we can to reduce income inequalities, which are one of the main underlying causes of health and life expectancy inequalities. I really support the Conservative council in Northumberland, who have reducing inequalities and improving the local economy as two of their three core priorities.”

Ian Lavery, however, said the post-pandemic picture was likely to be worse. He said: “Once again the disparities between the most and least deprived here in Northumberland are laid bare yet hardly register in the national conversation.

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“Levelling up has repeatedly been shown to be a sham but the crumbs from the table used to build shiny public infrastructure projects mean very little when people are dying too early simply for being poor.

“I share the concerns raised by Professor Sir Michael Marmot and will continue with every sinew to fight for the health of my constituents.”

Anne-Marie Trevelyan said: “I do not comment on individual studies, but great healthcare has always been at the centre of my campaigns since being elected as MP.

“I secured a new £35m Berwick Infirmary, one of my six pledges, with the steel frame now complete; modern GP surgeries in many locations; and I am continuing to call for the best support for our GPs and mental health services.”

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