No Token Gestures – North Health Inequality Must Be Tackled By Government

The North is sick, the disease free gap – the amount of your life you can expect to live in good health – for a young girl born in Richmond, South West London, today is 15 years greater than for a girl born in the poorest area of Manchester.

Overall, men and women, in the North of England are 20% more likely to die earlier than their southern counterparts. This translates as a staggering 1.2m Northerners dying earlier than their southern counterparts over the past fifty years.

This ill health impacts on all areas of life, skills, employment, relationships, education an especially productivity – in fact everything is affected by ill health.

The newly released UK Industrial Strategy is specifically targeted at improving UK productivity. If we are to increase this then we have to tackle front-on the health inequality we see in the North and across the UK. Through the life science sector deal we have the potential to address both health and wealth, health through innovative new treatments created by the life science and health innovation sector, wealth through the jobs and investment made by this £64bn industry.

The North of England has nationally leading NHS Trusts, such as Newcastle Hospitals that top the clinical trials leader board, world leading research intensive Universities and a dynamic life science sector made up of over 1,000 companies.

The North itself has all the tools it needs to address this challenge, what it needs is the freedom to act, combined with substantial government support, to actively promote growth and investment in the region.

One way of doing this is could be for the UK Government allow regions like the North to develop regional sector deals in areas such as life sciences – with proper support in terms of power and funding. This is what my organisation has been working towards with Government, where we saw early signs in the white paper that this could very well happen.

The North needs this type of fundamental intervention, research has identified that places with higher levels of medical research also enjoy better health outcomes. The North is a vital hub for health research and an emerging centre of global expertise in health innovation, but must be supported to do more to bridge the health inequalities gap with the South. In 2014 the region was in receipt of £273 million in research funding, and with recent investments in NIHR Biomedical Research Centres, antimicrobial resistance and our Connected Health Cities big data programme, the region is a burgeoning centre of global expertise in health innovation.

It is no surprise then that the North has been successfully positioned for private sector investment in health research, receiving around 20% of total private sector funding, and is second to only the South East in health sector employment.

However, it only receives 6% of government and other related public sector funding, which severely impacts on the North’s capacity to deliver and future growth potential.

The freedom afforded to Manchester through the devolution of its health and social care budget has the potential to have long-term sustainable impact on the city and its 2.5m population. No single government investment could ever have such a positive impact on the future development and growth of a single city.

Could we learn from this model and apply it to the implementation of the Industrial Strategy?

As it stands there is an over-arching Industrial Strategy that is place-led, and then there are ‘sector deals’ of which Life Sciences Industrial Strategy (covering health) is one.

There is a danger that if the Life Sciences Industrial Strategy is not also place-led then we will see, yet again, an overbalanced level of investment in Oxford, Cambridge and London, which squanders the vast number of opportunities in the North. A quick city word count in Industrial Strategy white paper of city mentions reveals; London = 32 Birmingham = 3 Manchester = 18 Leeds = 11 Liverpool = 6 Cardiff = 8 Belfast = 7 Sheffield = 4 Bristol = 3 Glasgow = 3 Edinburgh = 2 Newcastle = 2 Nottingham = 1 Milton Keynes = 10 Oxford = 12 Cambridge = 16. Crude I know, but we clearly still some way to go to ensure parity across the UK.

Putting place-based politics to one side, the creation of an innovation and science led industrial strategy is an important and critical opportunity that UK must embrace if we are to see through the turbulent post-Brexit waters ahead. To be a success the North, and other regions, must be a fundamental part of it.

That is why we worked so closely with government in the run-up to the launch of the Industrial Strategy White Paper, where we argued for the creation of regional life science sector deals, and were pleased to be named as a partner to deliver in the North of England.

But we will not be placated by tokens.

The life sciences sector deal unlike other sectors has the opportunity to support both health and wealth, something the Northern Powerhouse could do with in both.

The Northern Health Science Alliance is committed to working with Government on delivering life sciences Industrial strategy delivered in partnership between the public and private sectors, driven by long-term commitments to investing in jobs, training and research and development. This then creates an exciting new opportunity for dialogue between our members, partners and Government to make sure we make the most of and continue to develop the North of England’s existing assets and infrastructure.

Because if Government works with the North there is the potential to have a real, long-lasting positive impact on the health and wealth of the region, boosting productivity and skills while also improving patientcare.

Our Department of Health funded Connected Health Cities programme already demonstrates the potential of innovative investment in the North of England and there are many biomedical research programmes across the region, including in digital health, ageing, precision medicine, cancer and more, breaking new ground and acting as drivers for investment which benefit the entire country.

A healthier, wealthier North will drive the whole country forward – something we desperately need in a post-Brexit economy.