Agenda item

Director of Public Health Annual Report 2023 - Joint Report of Corporate Director of Adult and Health Services and Director of Public Health


The Council received the 2023 Annual Report of the Director of Public Health for County Durham (for copy see file of Minutes).


The County Durham Director of Public Health Annual Report 2023 focused on the following:

· Foreword by the Director of Public Health.

· Health of our people.

· 10 years of public health in local authority.

· Collaboration, working together to improve lives.


Councillor C Hood, Cabinet Portfolio Holder for Adult and Health Services welcomed the independent annual report from the Director of Public Health.


This year’s report reflected on 10 years of the public health function transferring from the NHS to the local authority.  Moving into the local authority provided the environment for public health to advocate, influence and work with others responsible for issues including housing, education, and the economy which all had an impact on people’s health.  In addition, working with elected Members ensured that public health was focussed more on working with communities.


The Annual Report provided an update on the current health and wellbeing of County Durham residents and highlighted some in-depth work to understand the needs of veterans across County Durham.  It also recognised some of the challenges faced over the last 10 years such as the response and recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic and the cost of living crisis and how this had impacted locally.


The Health and Wellbeing Board had overseen a range of work over the last 10 years including the integration of health and social care.  The Annual Report provided an update on the Health and Wellbeing Board and the work undertaken against the four current key health priorities for County Durham which were making smoking history, enabling healthy weight for all, improving mental health resilience and wellbeing and reducing alcohol harm.


The report highlighted that smoking prevalence had decreased by 6.7%, which was a reduction of 26,700 smokers since 2013.  However, at 14.5% County Durham’s levels remained above the national average and there was a need to concentrate efforts in County Durham to have a smoke-free future for families.  It also highlighted the strong links with social determinants of health with joint work between health and economy for an example. 


There were still significant areas of challenge on relation to the health and wellbeing of residents including mental health.  The Health and Wellbeing Board had mental health across the life course as a priority


Key programmes of work included school based mental health support, suicide prevention and campaigns including ‘Now You’re Talking’, working with partners to improve mental health and tackle stigma and discrimination.


Councillor J Elmer referred to the health benefits from access to open space and informed Council that he was involved in two projects about access to open space and providing walking opportunities and registered his concern that both projects were under threat. The Director of Public Health replied that as the Physical Activity Strategy Action Plan was implemented, she would have a discussion with Councillor Elmer about the projects.


Councillor C Fletcher informed Council it was important for public health to work alongside and collaborate with all partners and having a holistic approach to health was essential.  Councillor Fletcher asked how public health worked alongside housing associations.  Councillor Fletcher also thanked the Director of Public Health for the continued support of the Help to Health volunteer driver scheme.


The Director of Public Health replied that public health worked closely with housing colleagues and was currently working with the Council on its housing and homelessness strategies.  Housing colleagues were also engaged through key public health task groups.


Councillor L Hovvels referred to leisure facilities across the County and their part in keeping people heathy, fit and combatted social isolation which had not been mentioned.


The Director of Public Health replied that public health officers worked closely with colleagues in Culture, Sport and Tourism and had been undertaking health impact assessments to ensure benefits of leisure facilities were maximised.


Councillor A Bell, whilst welcoming the reduction in the number of smokers, asked whether the increased use of vapes was resulting in an increase in nicotine dependency.  The Director of Public Health replied that the Government consultation on ‘Stopping the Start’ which looked at both increasing the age of sale for cigarettes also looked to tighten the legislation in relation to vaping.  It was known from evidence that vaping, although not totally risk free, was much safer than smoking.  For those who smoked, the ability to switch to and have access to vaping was very important.  Whilst the number of children and young people smoking had reduced, the number vaping had increased, although this had not been reflected in an increase in smoking as yet.


Councillor M McKeon asked how a more mental health focus could be applied to the Obesity Strategy.  The Director of Public Health replied that the Strategy had recently been refreshed and now had clear links between mental health and food choices.


Councillor A Batey referred to leisure facilities and the importance that everybody had access to leisure facilities no matter where they lived within the County.  The Chief Executive replied that a report would be brought to Cabinet in the new year on the Leisure Transformation Programme.


Councillor D Hall referred to Alzheimer’s and dementia which appeared to be a hidden problem, despite the scale, highlighted a need for a joined up strategy across the Council, GP practices and the CCGs to address this issue.  The Director of Public Health replied that Alzheimer’s and dementia were both important issues.  Under the Mental Health Strategic Partnership dementia was a key area.  Commissioning colleagues were undertaking a needs assessment within local communities which would lead to a refresh of what the strategic approach would be.


Councillor F Tinsley referred to the differences in life expectancy for both men and women between affluent and deprived areas in County Durham.  Looking at absolute life expectancy County Durham was approximately two years behind the UK average, which increased to four to five years for healthy life expectancy.  Councillor Tinsley asked the Director of Public Health whether she agreed that life expectancy was not improving at a rate it should be and whether it could be argued, particularly over the last 10 to 13 years, the situation was getting worse.


The Director of Public Health replied that recently, up until the pandemic, life expectancy and healthy life expectancy had increased.  What was now being witnessed was the stalling and impact of the pandemic. Focussing on those who needed the support most was a key part of the implementation plan which aimed to tackle both life expectancy and healthy life expectancy.

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