Sick city? Tell us something we don’t know…

TWENTY years ago when yours truly was learning the ropes in the Press and PR game I was involved in a local health service initiative.
The aim was to shake off Stoke-on-Trent’s ‘sick city’ tag and rebrand ourselves as the ‘fit city’.
This project was conceived because it was believed that great strides had been made in terms of public health in the Potteries.
Gone were the smoking chimneys of yore and fewer and fewer people were employed in occupations such as coal-mining which could have a detrimental affect on the health of workers.
People were living longer and suffering fewer work-related illnesses as our economy was forced to diversify away from traditional industries and dirty, manual labour.
As a result, the city’s population was – generally – seen as more healthy than it had been say in the 1950s and 1960s.
This was viewed as a success story worth celebrating and one which the public health supremos of the day trumpeted loudly.
How sad it is then that two decades later I read of a new report which paints a harrowing picture of soaring sickness rates and deprivation.
The snazzily-titled Joint Strategic Needs Assessment shows us up for the poor relations we truly are compared to other cities in the UK and underlines the great health inequalities which still exist locally.
The report ranks Stoke-on-Trent as the 16th most deprived local authority area in England and seventh nationally for educational deprivation.
It lays bare the high levels of smoking among adults and the excessive levels of alcohol consumption as well as revealing the tens of thousands of people experiencing mental health problems and tells of many pensioners living in ‘fuel poverty’.
Worse still, it says that three-quarters of all deaths are as a result of heart attack, cancer or chest disease and that the overall death rate in our city is 22 per cent higher than the national average.
Yes: Us Potters are 22 per cent more likely to die.
Grim as these statistics are, however, the truth is that we have  known all of this for some time.
Indeed, the report itself tells us nothing new – it’s simply an exercise in collating and presenting a ton of appalling data in one, depressing chunk.
The crucial fact is that the document lists around 40 recommendations for improvements but admits that neither the health authority nor the city council have the brass or the resources to achieve them.
No, this doesn’t somehow lend more power to the elbow of campaigners who have been fighting to save a couple of ageing, local authority-run swimming pools.
I’m afraid it’s going to take more than a few lengths at Tunstall or Shelton to solve this myriad of problems.
Stoke-on-Trent suffers low levels of educational achievement, leading to high levels of unemployment and deprivation. This equates to poor health for generations of people living in the Potteries.
Both the Conservatives and Labour, during their time in office since 1990, have been guilty of short-changing the people of Stoke-on-Trent.
Indeed, it took a 19,000-signature petition and a campaign by this newspaper to ensure our city got the new hospital it desperately needed.
But we can’t lay all the blame for the evils that are being visited upon us at the door of central government. What this report does is force us to take a long, hard look at ourselves as a city.
The fact is that, in many ways, Stoke-on-Trent hasn’t moved on as other cities have in the last 20 years.
Our problems are so endemic, the causes so varied and the solutions so multi-faceted that we cannot rely on any one public service to revive the ailing patient.
It’s time to stop feeling sorry for ourselves and waiting on others to ride to our rescue.
It simply isn’t going to happen.
The truth is that this report is only really any use to us if it serves as the catalyst for the creation of a new task force to tackle poverty, deprivation, unemployment and sickness here in the Potteries.
Our council, health services, educational establishments and major employers must work together to find the solutions to these social ills rather than periodically bitting at specific problems.
The question is: do we have any volunteers?


One thought on “Sick city? Tell us something we don’t know…

  1. Dave Felstead says:

    Yes: Us Potters are 22 per cent more likely to die.

    Being Potters they must be Sjoke fans so its not surprising mate as they spend so much time looking up into the sky during the game they forget to look down when they come out.


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