Local variation in avoidable death rates revealed

The "shocking" local variation in early death rates has been exposed today by Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt to drive public awareness and boost council and NHS action to tackle public health problems.

The figures are part of 'Longer Lives', a new Public Health England (PHE) website which allows local people to see easily how their areas perform on early deaths from the major four killers, like heart disease and cancer, and how this varies across the country.

Using a traffic-light rating system, it ranks areas showing those performing above average in tackling avoidable deaths as green, and exposes the worst that are lagging behind and need to do more as red.

The website contains a range of data that, for the first time, allows people to easily compare an area's mortality performance against those with similar populations, incomes and levels of health.

Overall it shows that the north of England has a higher risk of early death than the south, but when comparing areas of a similar socio-economic status it reveals a more complex picture.

For example, Rotherham and Redcar & Cleveland have the best rates of reducing premature deaths amongst those local authorities with the greatest levels of deprivation, whilst areas such as Bracknell Forest and Central Bedfordshire have the worst rates of premature mortality amongst the most affluent local authorities. Some areas do well on most measures. However some have concerning scores for just one or two conditions.

The data and website will provide local areas with information to help them understand their own position and better target efforts to improve the public's health.

Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt said: "This shocking variation in early and unnecessary deaths means people's lives are needlessly cut short, and that cannot continue unchecked.

I want areas to use the data released today to identify local public health challenges like smoking, drinking and obesity and to take action to help achieve our ambition for saving 30,000 lives a year by 2020. Being more transparent will also allow professionals and the public to see how their local area is performing over time, allowing them to intervene and make improvements happen."

Efforts to improve public health, such as smoking cessation, improved diet and early diagnosis, could dramatically reduce the 103,000 avoidable premature deaths in England every year.

Experts believe a person's likelihood of dying prematurely from one of the top four killers varies widely between local authorities due to differences in risk factors, such as obesity, alcohol and smoking, and socioeconomic determinants.

Working with their Clinical Commissioning Group partners through health and wellbeing boards, local councils have a pivotal role in leading the local health and care system to improve the health of their local communities.

Local councils were given responsibility for public health in April 2013 as part of a move to empower local areas to make real change. To help them deliver these improvements the government has given them £5.46bn of ring-fenced funding over the next two years.

By bringing together the data on premature deaths it is hoped that local councils will be able to gain insight into the situations they have inherited, allowing them to identify areas of concern and take action.

This data is the first information to be rolled out as part of the government's plans to provide the public and health professionals with clear, easily accessible information on how health and care services are doing in improving health outcomes wherever we live.