Smoking mums-to-be and boozy youngsters earn Borders black mark

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MORE pregnant woman smoke and 15-year-olds drink in the Borders than the Scottish average, according to an NHS report.

The region was labelled “significantly worse” than the national norm in a series of key health and social issues.

They include households in extreme fuel poverty, pensioners receiving free care at home, patients hospitalised following an assault and the number of road accident casualties.

The figures for children and young people showed a higher-than-average number of Borderers up to the age of 24 being treated in hospital for alcohol and drugs, and for those involved in car crashes.

The Health and Wellbeing Scotland report also highlighted health inequalities across the Borders, with a man in Langlee in Galashiels expected to live almost eight years less than his equivalent in West Linton or Broughton.

Michelle Ballantyne, head of service at face2face, which deals with drink and drugs misuse among teenagers in the region, said the report’s findings did not surprise her. She told TheSouthern: “Alcohol is a great concern. The problem is related to young people copying adults. They don’t appreciate that children model themselves on the behaviour of adults and their drinking.

“It is very difficult to point the finger at any one factor.

“Obviously there are peaks such as during the common riding and rugby sevens seasons but it is a year-round problem.”

Information on 59 indicators across 10 wide-ranging domains – including ill health, behaviour, economy, crime and housing – were collected last year in the NHS Scotland publication.

While the Borders recorded significantly lower figures than the Scottish mean for teenage pregnancy, and children in council care and referrals to the Children’s Reporter for violent offences, the report said the region was markedly worse off in 10 issues.

It also failed eight out of 38 indicators for children and young people, including hospitalised victims of assault.

Some areas, such as West Linton and Broughton (which had one significantly worse indicator) and Peebles South (none), recorded well above national average results, while Hawick’s Burnfoot (21) and Langlee (22) were the poorest performing zones. The mean life expectancy of a man in Langlee (71.7 years) or Burnfoot (73.1) was well below West Linton and Broughton (79.6) and Peebles South (78.5), while both housing estates rank greatly above Scotland’s medium for smoking, alcohol, unemployment and crime statistics.

However, Mrs Ballantyne said: “We must be careful not to label places where everybody in that area is a problem, that would be wrong.

“Problems maybe more visible in some places, whereas it is hidden in others. Alcohol and drug-use are related to family breakdown and peer group influences more than deprivation.

“While there are issues in Langlee and Burnfoot, middle-class homes also have problems but maybe keep them behind closed doors.”

Commenting on the report’s findings, Scottish Borders Council’s community safety officer Paul Richardson said: “Alcohol-related issues are a concern in a number of communities, whether it is violence on the streets, anti-social behaviour, drink driving or domestic abuse.Alcohol misuse is our biggest challenge over the next few years.

“There are 59 indicators and for the vast majority the Borders is better than the Scottish average,” concluded Mr Richardson.

Dr Eric Baijal, joint director of public health for both NHS Borders and SBC, told us: “The report, published earlier this year, shows that the life expectancy in the Borders is good.

“However, smoking and drinking are above recommended levels. Along with obesity, these are factors affecting the population as well as the economic situation which will increase unemployment and poverty – all impacting on people’s health.

“The report also sets out the work being done to help reduce risk factors and help people to improve their lifestyles. This ranges from screening programmes for diseases such as bowel cancer to the play@home scheme to promote physical activity in early childhood.

Dr Baijal said the Alcohol and Drug Partnership tackles misuse by children, young people and adults, while NHS Borders has a joint health protection plan to manage the main infectious diseases and environmental health risks.

“All these actions show the progress we are making and our plans for tackling the challenges we face,” said Dr Baijal.