Life expectancy in Redbridge rising but health inequalities a top priority

Juggling balls as varied as rising childhood obesity and the alarming rate of sexually transmitted infections in Redbridge can leave some in a bit of a spin, but Gladys Xavier has a calm hand on a huge role.

Clutching a 116-page report into the state of health of people in the borough, she speaks of her “passion” for a job which maps out, ultimately, how to get people living longer.

“It’s not always about leaflets,” says Gladys, Redbridge’s deputy director of public health.

“There are lots of different things that we’re doing, like targeted work through the voluntary sector.”

When it comes to the key test of the borough’s health: life expectancy, things are going in the right direction.

People born between 2007-2009 are expected to live more than two years longer than they did a decade ago.

The figures, the most up to date, are included in the annual Keeping Redbridge Healthy report compiled by NHS Redbridge.

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It is the 10th such report, and also looks at how health has changed over the last decade.

But it does reveal inequalities in the borough.

Life expectancy for men is 79.4 years and for women 83 years.

But in Loxford ward, in Ilford South, men born between 2005-2009 are expected to live for 73.3 years and women for 78.8 years.

Valentines ward also has a significantly lower than average male life expectancy, and female life expectancy in Seven Kings is lower than the average.

Gladys said: “The population in this part of the borough is transient.

“We know Loxford ward has a level of depravation and poverty. Increasing life expectancy can’t be done just through health, but through all factors like poverty and housing.”

And this is an area where things are set to change.

As part of the government’s health reforms, the responsibility for public health will fall within the remit of the local authority from April 2013.

Gladys and her team will work alongside Redbridge Council from next year, and it is something she is excited about.

“It’s a really good opportunity,” said Gladys.

“There are many determinants of health that at the moment we can’t influence, like housing and the environment.

“We will have a new insight once we begin work with the local authority.”

Eight people work as part of NHS Redbridge’s public health team, with responsibility for improving the health services available for people and protecting residents.

But it is a long-term role, with changes made in 2012 in some cases not bearing fruit for years.

Successes documented in the 116-page Keeping Redbridge Healthy report include immunisation for measles, mumps and rubella rising from 79 per cent in 2008/09 to 85 per cent in 2010/11.

Survival rates for those with cancer is also above the national average.

But childhood obesity is an area Redbridge continues to fall down in.

Speaking of the need to improve the fitness of young and old in the borough, Gladys said: “For me, the message I have for people is you don’t have to go to the gym to be physically active.

“You can get off your bus a stop early and walk the rest. Walking when shopping can be incorporated into you daily activity.”

Gladys believes a key success in public heath has been free NHS health checks for all 40-74-year-olds in Redbridge.

It is something every GP practice in the borough has signed up to, and in Gladys’ view, it has allowed people to be diagnosed early for health problems.

But with stillbirths high in Redbridge – the borough has the highest stillbirth rate in London –Gladys is urging mothers to make contact with a health professional early in their pregnancy.

“It’s important to have early intervention,” she said.

Speaking of the borough’s health outlook as a whole she added: “I would say the health of the borough is well, it has improved.

“But there are ward-level inequalities that we need to address.”