Torbay highlighted – for all the wrong reasons

By David Gledhill, Marketing & Communications Lead

The Chief Medical Officer’s annual report was published recently, and unfortunately, Torbay featured heavily in it – for all the wrong reasons.

Professor Chris Witty (he of TV press conference COVID fame) drew attention to the fact that coastal towns in the UK are among the poorest and most deprived and he highlighted Torbay as one of the worst.

In short, most people visiting our beautiful Bay only see the sun, sea and sand, but underlying all that is attractive to the eye is the hidden fact that in the Bay, we have some of the country’s poorest health outcomes, which leaves many residents ‘old before their time.’

The Chief Medical Officer’s annual report for 2021 makes for some depressing reading over 259 pages and has been prepared with input from Torbay’s Public Health Director, Dr Lincoln Sargeant. It doesn’t say anything we didn’t know but we should be grateful for it being finally highlighted on the national stage.

Prof. Witty has called for a national strategy to overcome the alarmingly high concentrations of chronic disease, mental illness and poor life expectancy in some of England’s most popular holiday destinations.

Rates of mental illness, heart disease, and kidney disease are around ten per cent higher than the national average, even after deprivation and the relatively older population is taken into account.

We have long known that the average age of the population of the Bay is considerably higher than most places, with the number of over 50’s making up around 50 per cent of residents.

It was recognised by the National Lottery Community Fund who have invested just short of £7,000,000 over seven years into Ageing Well Torbay, which has been tackling one of the key factors that lead to ill health – loneliness and isolation.

Our Community Builders have been on the front line helping improve the quality of life for over 50’s, whether that is through social gatherings, exercise classes or hobby groups.

And the Torbay Community Helpline – on 01803 4466022 – which was initially set up in response to the COVID crisis, is now a gateway to tackling many of the things that Prof. Witty highlights in his report.

Working alongside the Torbay and South Devon NHS Trust and Torbay Council, the Torbay Community Development Trust is committed to keeping the Helpline going so that we can provide a first port of call for people who need mental health support, housing problems and a whole host of other issues.

So far, our call handlers have triaged nearly 900 people who have rung in needing mental health support and housing support, which was introduced as an issue relatively recently, has already been the source of more than 130 calls.

The main areas of focus in the report that leads Prof Witty to his conclusions are perhaps not surprisingly our economy and employment, housing, mental health, migration and education.

We also have higher rates of cardiovascular disease, respiratory disease, and diabetes than the national average.

We have long known that which is stated in the introduction to the report: ‘There are many reasons for poor health outcomes in coastal communities. The pleasant environment attracts older, retired citizens to settle, who inevitably have more and increasing health problems.’

In his recommendations, Prof Witty said, “If we do not tackle the health problems of coastal communities vigorously and systematically, there will be a long tail of preventable ill health, which will get worse as current populations age.”

On the plus side, the report highlights 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.

And the report concludes that 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 have been long neglected and overlooked.

Coastal areas like Torbay have long been overlooked in favour of denser populated inner cities, but perhaps now, with this report, the combined actions of the public sector as well as the charity and voluntary sector, we can, with the help of our strong, resilient communities, finally get to grips with issues facing us all.