Chief Medical Officer’s annual report 2021: health in coastal communities

Chief Medical Officer Professor Chris Whitty’s second annual report presents an analysis of the health and wellbeing of England’s coastal communities.

Given the known high rates of preventable illness in these areas, the lack of available data on the health of coastal communities has been striking whilst researching this report. Coastal communities have been long overlooked with limited research on their health and wellbeing. The focus has tended towards inner city or rural areas with too little attention given to the nation’s periphery. Data is rarely published at a geographical level granular enough to capture coastal outcomes, with most data only available at local authority or Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG) level. As a result, deprivation and ill health at the coast is hidden by relative affluence just inland which is lumped together. This report aims to explore the experiences of local leaders, along with analysis of what data exist, to help us understand the health and wellbeing of coastal communities. Coastal communities are not homogenous, and each is shaped by its own unique history and culture. They do, however, share many similar characteristics, which should help some common policy responses. A resort town like Blackpool, for example, has more in common with Hastings, Skegness or Torbay than with Preston, just 18 miles inland. Fishing or port communities have particular, shared, challenges. A national strategy informed by these common groups, and underpinned by local actions aligned with a sustained evidence-informed strategy, will help reduce health inequalities in these areas. This report will highlight the significant strengths in coastal communities along with many exemplary and impressive examples of local work taking place to support the health of local citizens. They should not however, in my view, face the considerable health challenges alone. The vulnerability of these communities is not a new revelation, and the economic problems they face have been highlighted in several recent reports including in relation to the impact of COVID-19 1,2,3 . Whilst the focus nationally over the summer may be directed towards visitors, with many opting to stay in one of the UK’s many beautiful coastal towns, it is important to remember that the coast is also home to millions of people and that the health and wellbeing of these populations has been long neglected and overlooked. Click here to read more

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