Norfolk patients face some of the longest journeys to GPs
- Credit: PA
People in Norfolk face longer journeys than almost anyone in the country to pick up prescriptions at a pharmacy, attend a GP appointment or use leisure facilities.
But according to England’s first official national health index, the county also benefits from low traffic noise, relatively low levels of anxiety and high levels of life satisfaction.
The index, published by the Office for National Statistics and financial services company Lane Clark and Peacock (LCP), pulls together data to give counties in England a single health score.
According to the index, Norfolk’s overall health score in 2018 was 98.4, slightly under the England average of 99.7. The score meant Norfolk was 93 out of 159 counties.
Given the rural nature of much of the county, it should come as no surprise that some the indicators in which Norfolk performed badly are centred around distance from services.
Only three out of 149 counties fared worse than Norfolk in terms of how far people have to travel to use sports and leisure facilities.
Patients in the county also have to travel further than most to both GP surgeries and pharmacies, with Norfolk coming in at fifth worst in the country for both measures. The counties ranked worst for this indicator were all rural in nature.
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A spokesperson for NHS Norfolk and Waveney Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG) said the county’s rural nature brought recruitment and retention challenges for GP surgeries.
“As a health system we continue to look at new ideas and innovations to bring care closer to people’s homes,” they added.
In January last year, a controversial decision to close the Fairstead Surgery in King’s Lynn was reversed, prompting relief among patients who facing being redirected to another surgery a mile away.
And this month, a business plan is due to be produced on the practicalities of moving the St James' Medical Practice in South Lynn two miles down the road.
Speaking last November, Councillor Alexandra Kemp, who represents Clenchwarton and King’s Lynn South, said the move would be "levelling down, not levelling up".
"This takes a town centre surgery, within walking distance of the areas of greatest deprivation, out of town on an HGV route, to an affluent suburb, only easily accessible by car,” she added.
Responding to the ONS’s health index on this newspaper's Facebook page, Michelle Woodman said: “The benefits of cleaner air and less stressful lifestyle mitigate most of the risk."
Reacting to the distance needed to travel to sports and leisure facilities, Michelle Marett said: “Access to sports & leisure centres doesn't indicate fitness levels. We walk our dogs twice a day in good clean air and run twice a week. Who needs a gym?”
Norfolk’s age demographic probably accounts for some of the county’s other concerning indicators too, including the prevalence of dementia, cancer and respiratory conditions with Norfolk the 16th, 26th and 30th worst in the country for those illnesses.
But when it comes to transport noise, Norfolk’s rural landscape comes to its rescue, with the county ranked as the 12th quietest in the country.
Predictably, there is less road traffic in the county compared to the rest of the country, with only 10 other counties coming above Norfolk in this regard.
Life satisfaction scores highly too in Norfolk, with the county 36th out of 149 in England.
England’s overall health score was given a baseline value of 100 for the year 2015. Since then, the index for England has declined to 99.7 in 2018, the latest year available.
Dr Jonathan Pearson-Stuttard, head of health analytics at LCP, said there had been significant changes in the three years to 2018, including a “big increase in depression”.
He added: “The numbers reveal clear and substantial differences across England and should be a wake-up call to the government to deliver on its manifesto pledge to level up regional inequalities.
“These may have deteriorated further as a result of Covid-19.”