The Committee received a report of the Director of Public Health that provided a summary of developments across Public Health (for copy see file of minutes).
The Chair referred to the rise in alcohol and drug abuse and violence in the home, and asked if anything was being done to mitigate that as we start to come out of the pandemic. The Director of Public Health responded that it was a real challenge in terms of alcohol due the accessibility and affordability and the significant impact it had on health services. There was no national alcohol strategy so no minimum unit price had been agreed as was the case in Scotland. With regards to drugs there was a lot of good innovative work taking place to tackle that. Domestic Abuse continued to be a priority with local partners having a real commitment to tackle this with additional funding being received.
Councillor Crute said that alcohol abuse during the pandemic had increased and a similar increase had also been detected in smoking. He went on to say that this was a stubborn performance indicator, especially with mothers smoking at the time of delivery. He asked about the impacts in terms of illnesses. The Director of Public Health confirmed that tobacco would remain a top priority and that there had been a slight increase in tobacco prevalence. The priority would be refreshed in relation to tobacco and smoking prevalence and innovative work taking place smoking at the time of delivery. Fresh and Balance would continue to keep abreast of national campaigns and we would continue to share concerns locally.
Councillor Gunn expressed a strong interest in children and young people’s mental health and expanding work with schools for the recovery from the pandemic, and asked if there would be any additional funding to aid this. The Director of Public Health advised that a healthy schools framework was being developed that would help to engage directly with schools and would be launched from September. A high level of investment would remain in children and young people’s mental health and work looking at how resilient and effective this has been would continue. Public health and schools’ relationships had strengthened and their needs had been listened to. One-off funding would also be a cause for concern and was challenging but the Director explained that we would have to wait for the outcome of the Public Health Review to see what funding would continue.
Councillor Stubbs asked if non combustibles were incorporated or if it was just tobacco. He also picked up on the British American tobacco profits and the emerging markets from the rest of the world and asked if that was being looked into. The Director of Public Health explained that non combustibles were not included in the figures as it was still classed as a safer option than tobacco. She was aware of the big tobacco companies and the new markets but assured members that Fresh and Balance represented us and kept us up-to-date. She added that it was an ongoing challenge and a key part of reducing haram was to prevent young people from starting on e-cigarettes and tobacco.
Moving on and answering a question from Councillor Quinn about suicides during the pandemic, the Director of Public Health said that her team had early access to potential suicides and wrap around support for adults. Locally, rates had been higher than the national average, particularly for men and rates for women had been the lower the national average but the same for the North East. During the pandemic there had been no increase in the suicide rates however this continued to be measured on an annual basis. The team continued to look at any connections of suicides, to reduce the stigma and monitored this closely.
Councillor Charlton-Laine said that she taught sex education in schools and during lockdown it was difficult to find suitable online content as other siblings may have been in the home. She was concerned that this needed addressing as there were gaps in the education. The Director of Public Health understood the challenge and would speak to Councillor Charlton-Laine outside of the meeting.
Further to a question from Councillor Homes about the figure of 66% of young people not visiting their GP during lockdown so as not to add any further pressures onto them, the Director of Public Health said she would look at the local data and feed back to the committee.
That the report be noted and to receive a further update in the form of the Director of Public Health annual report in November 2021.