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Death rate league table to ‘challenge’ councils

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A national league table showing rates of premature death is due be unveiled by Public Health England next week as part of a strategy to help the public “challenge those in positions of responsibility”, LGC has learned.

PHE will publish the data online, in a format that allows each council’s public health outcomes to be compared with those of other authorities.

The move comes as part of PHE’s Longer Lives project which it says will help residents “see how their local authority compares nationally”.

A report seen by LGC indicates that the organisation believes the comparative data will be an important means of driving up the quality of council services.

“The Longer Lives data can function as an authoritative context for conversations and challenges to those in positions of responsibility,” the report says.

A letter accompanying the report, from PHE chief knowledge officer John Newton, says: “Making England’s premature mortality data transparent and accessible is a significant step forward for the new health and care system.”

The league table is scheduled to be launched next Tuesday and includes data on cancer, heart disease, stroke, lung disease and liver disease.

According to PHE it will “highlight variations across all local authorities in England and offer guidance to help make improvements”.

Incoming president of the Faculty of Public Health John Ashton said he had not seen the new service but believed it could have a major impact.

“Having this local data can galvanise political action,” he said. “People will get motivated and angry if they have data in their hands that shows people in their area have a much shorter life expectancy than other people.”

Professor Ashton added that he hoped the publication of the data would encourage a new mindset among those commissioning services.

“The information that tends to dominate at the top table is about finance and costs. It should be about outcomes, not ticking boxes, and I hope this will encourage that,” he said.

One senior local government officer told LGC he had mixed feelings about the data.

“If this is about using data to genuinely understand local need and give councils the freedom to spend on local priorities, that’s great,” he said.

“But if it becomes an ersatz league table, it would be a stupid piece of sensationalism. We already know about the differences in health for different postcodes so it needs to be offering us something more than that.”

The PHE report makes it clear that this is not the first time this data has been published but emphasises that the information is now in a form which makes it “easy to access, view and compare”.

Data to be published on each council area includes:

  • Total premature deaths in a given timeframe
  • Premature mortality ranking
  • Socioeconomic deprivation ranking
  • Comparisons with other local authorities for cancer, liver, lung and heart disease, and stroke.

The PHE report says the data will initially be based on upper-tier local authority areas, but will in future “drill down” to smaller areas including lower-tier authorities and electoral wards.

Data on trends, including “areas of improvement” and “risk factors”, will also be added.

The report stresses local government’s role in public health, saying councils are “in the driving seat for health improvement in communities”.

Information already published by PHE indicates a strong correlation between deprivation and poor health outcomes. It shows men’s life expectancy is lowest in Blackpool at 73.5 years and highest in Kensington and Chelsea at 84.6 years.

A PHE spokesperson said the data would help councils “gain insight into the situations they have inherited allowing them to identify areas of concern and take action”.

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