Chris Whitty: serious health challenges in coastal communities must be tackled

Serious health challenges existing in coastal towns must be tackled by the Government or they will “get worse”, Professor Chris Whitty has said.

Professor Chris Whitty’s report can be found here.

West Somerset and Torbay feature as two of the ten study cases (Exmouth seems to have escaped):


A patch of the Devon coastline on England’s south-coast that includes the towns of Torquay, Paignton and Brixham, Torbay has higher rates of cardio-vascular disease, respiratory disease, and diabetes than the national average.

Its ageing housing stock – it has high numbers of former guest houses converted into relatively cheap houses of multiple occupation, and caravan parks – is identified as a key environmental factor in poor health outcomes in the area.

And, of course, he mentions the “Oldies” in Budleigh, Seaton and Sidmouth: 

“The older age profile of the coastal towns’ resident population is particularly visible in smaller seaside towns, where 31% of the resident population was aged 65 years or over, in 2019, in comparison with 22% in smaller non-coastal towns. The proportion of population aged 65 years or over was highest in Budleigh Salterton in Devon at 45%, in Hunstanton in Norfolk at 44% and in Seaton and Sidmouth also in Devon at 43%.”

Chris Whitty: serious health challenges in coastal communities must be tackled

Daisy Stephens

England’s chief medical officer (CMO) has recommended a cross-government national strategy to improve the health and wellbeing of coastal communities as part of his 2021 Annual Report, which found that those living in coastal communities face lower life expectancies and higher rates of many major diseases compared to people in inland areas.

“Coastal areas are some of the most beautiful, vibrant and historic places in the country,” said Prof Whitty.

“They also have some of the worst health outcomes with low life expectancy and high rates of many major diseases.

“These communities have often been overlooked by governments and the ill-health hidden because their outcomes are merged with wealthier inland areas.

“A national strategy informed by local leaders and experts will help reduce inequalities and preventable ill health.

“If we do not tackle the health problems of coastal communities vigorously and systematically there will be a long tail of preventable ill health which will get worse as current populations age.”

According to Prof Whitty’s report, Health in Coastal Communities, Blackpool is the most deprived local authority in England, and also experiences the lowest life expectancy for both males (74.4 years) and females (79.5 years).

In West Somerset, 23 per cent of residents over 16 live with a long-term condition compared to 17 per cent inland, and in the entire county, hospital admissions for self-harm are significantly higher than the rest of England.

Coastal areas in the North East, such as Hartlepool and Hull, have seen high rates of coronavirus compared to the rest of the country and both have seen a negative impact on the local economies, the report sets out.

The report also found that seaside communities have fewer postgraduate medical trainees, consultants and nurses per patient than the national average.

The report also noted a number of factors that could partly explain the trend, such as the fact that coastal towns have an oversupply of cheap guest housing and houses of multiple occupation (HMOs) which encourages the migration of vulnerable people, often with certain health needs, and that older, retired citizens with increasing health problems often settle in coastal regions.

The report comes after the Government’s levelling up agenda was introduced, which aims to invest billions of pounds in projects across the United Kingdom and in seaside towns such as Hastings and Hartlepool.

Prof Whitty set out that a cross-government national strategy should be created to improve the health and wellbeing of coastal communities.

He also called for the “mismatch” between care worker deployment and disease to be addressed and said there needed to be an improvement in data and research into health needs.

Health Secretary Sajid Javid, said: “I welcome this report from Professor Chris Whitty, which raises important points on inequalities that we must tackle to improve the health of coastal communities – and I will carefully consider these recommendations.

“Those living in coastal areas clearly face different sets of challenges to those inland but everybody, no matter where they live, should have similar opportunities in education, housing, employment and health.

“We are committed to levelling up across the nation.”