Disadvantaged communities praised for their work on health issues

Dr. Eric Baijal. Scottish Borders Joint Director of Public Health.
Dr. Eric Baijal. Scottish Borders Joint Director of Public Health.

MORE teenage mothers, more young mums smoking while pregnant, fewer children immunised, poorer educational attainment and higher dependancy on benefits – some of the issues that will be targeted as priorities in the five areas of the Borders classed as being the region’s most disadvantaged.

Dr Eric Baijal is joint director of public health for both NHS Borders and Scottish Borders Council, and this week, in what is his second such annual report, he gave councillors an assessment of the state of public health over the past year.

Much of the report focuses on five Borders communities regarded as the region’s most disadvantaged, where the relatively good health experienced by many Borders communities contrasts with the poor life experience in Bannerfield in Selkirk, Burnfoot in Hawick, Langlee in Galashiels, Eyemouth and Walkerburn.

These were contrasted with Lauder as one of the region’s more affluent towns with a good health profile.

Dr Baijal said the health and well-being of children and young people were a priority for him and his team.

“Children still die in the Borders – that’s a proven fact. What we have to do is decide what steps are we going to take to address that,” he told councillors and officials.

As well as children and young people, priorities in the report include work to combat drug, alcohol and tobacco misuse, childhood weight issues, the health of older people and health protection planning.

Around nine per cent of the Borders’ population, just over 10,000 people, live in the five disadvantaged areas listed in the report. According to the data collected by Dr Baijal and his team, these communities have a similar poor life experience, with a higher percentage of teenage mothers, many mothers smoking in the important early weeks of pregnancy, low rates of breastfeeding and to some extent low immunisation uptake for children, coupled with poor educational attainment, and dependence on benefits.

However, Dr Baijal also highlighted the fact that there was a lot of good work going on in many of these communities, much of it by residents themselves, which could provide useful lessons for the region’s more affluent areas. Initiatives to improve health and well-being have included lunch clubs to reduce isolation amongst older people, vegetable growing, allotment projects – one including a community orchard – food and health sessions for parents and involvement in schools, breakfast clubs, food and health sessions for primary school children.

Work on physical activity has ranged from walking groups to physical activity during school class time.

“In conclusion, while these communities have a worse life experience than other parts of the Borders they have enthusiastically embraced initiatives which they see as meeting their needs,” stated Dr Baijal.

However, he warned that the Borders cannot afford to be complacent and has recommended that money spent on preventative measures should be targeted at these disadvantaged areas, and underlined the need for efforts to prevent the misuse of alcohol and drugs should be a priority.

Tweeddale West councillor Willie Archibald praised Dr Baijal for his report, saying: “I would like to congratulate him for not tip-toeing round the issues. This attempt has to succeed in helping these areas that need it. This report pulls no punches – it is not political. It is just commonsense.”

Reports in detail: Pages 14 and 15

z At the same meeting, Burnfoot Community School and its cook, Sheila Clyne, were congratulated by the council on winning the Working in Partnership Award in the 2011 UK National Educatering Excellence Awards.