A PUBLIC health boss has prescribed greater community involvement in decision-making and more collaborative working between public agencies to address glaring health inequalities which have proved tough to tackle.

Dr Lincoln Sergeant, who has been North Yorkshire’s director of public health since 2013, said he had made the seven recommendations in his Health and Hardship in North Yorkshire report after not seeing “a great deal of progress in reducing health inequalities”.

The report highlights how the variation in average life expectancy is more than six years in different areas of North Yorkshire, with the figure in Scarborough borough standing at 77.3 years, while in Hambleton district it is 83.6 years.

The study concluded while child health is better than England for many measures and infant mortality is significantly lower than the national average, hospital admissions for injuries to children are significantly above the England rate.

Dr Sergeant said he while was optimistic the recommendations, which he had pitched between “calling for national policy change and telling people to go and solve their own problems”, would bring about significant change, most would take several years to implement.

He added: “If we can spend this time starting a new direction of travel and doing some things differently then I think we will really have achieved something.”

The report suggests North Yorkshire County, the borough and district councils could be doing more to develop coordinated strategies, to address rural-specific needs including employment, connectivity and affordable housing. Dr Sergeant has also called on the councils to lead coordinated plans focused on areas of deprivation through collaboration with local communities and residents to reflect their priorities for reducing poverty and shaping healthy places.

Alongside this, he has pressed councils to work with voluntary and community sector partners to strengthen the involvement of local communities in shaping plans for reducing the impact of poverty in areas of deprivation.

In addition, Dr Sergeant said all public agencies should identify or appoint community champions to promote “a culture of community engagement” in their organisations.

The recommendations also call for an investigation into the impact of benefits system changes, in terms of their mental and physical health and the use of services.

The report states benefits sanctions appear to disproportionately target single parents, those with long-term health conditions or disabilities and keep people locked in poverty.

It states: “The way in which the benefits system is operated at times has more in common with the workhouse than with the aspiration of Beveridge, that benefits should support people to live dignified lives. There appears little real evidence to support the notion that a harsh benefits regime will motivate people out of poverty. In fact, it appears to be having the opposite effect.”

Dr Sergeant said: “The challenge I’ve had with Universal Credit is I’m yet to find people on the ground who say the changes are doing what they are intended to do. We need to take a very dispassionate look at it.”