The WMAHSN creates and supports an environment in which the health and wealth of the population of the West Midlands can improve and prosper. The wellbeing of our citizens and the continuous improvement in safe care and better outcomes for those in need are the driving force behind the WMAHSN and its partner organisations. The West Midlands continues to be a region of diversity, with areas of affluence and deprivation and with established health inequalities, but it is also one that is rich in potential.
The West Midlands Academic Health Science Network’s (WMAHSN) footprint extends across 13,000 square kilometres of a geographically diverse region, ranging from the intensely urbanised areas of the centre conurbation to the rural counties of Shropshire and Herefordshire in the Welsh Marches, pastoral Warwickshire and Worcester to the south and the rugged Staffordshire Moorlands to the North.
In contrast to the predominantly rural shares, there are major population centres in Birmingham – the UK’s second largest city – as well as in the Black Country, Coventry and Stoke-on-Trent.
We have a population of 5.675 million, made up of a diverse socio-economic mix. The West Midlands includes both a large number of elderly while also having the youngest population in the UK. Birmingham is the youngest city in Europe, with the under 25s accounting for nearly 40% of the population.
Of the population, 2.6 million live in the metropolitan districts of Birmingham, Coventry, Dudley, Sandwell, Solihull, Walsall and Wolverhampton.
The region has the largest non-white population outside London (14%), with Asian or Asian-British being the main ethnic groups (7.5%) There is significant socio-economic diversity, with areas of high deprivation, but also very prosperous parts in the West Midlands, south Warwickshire and the Cotswolds, Malvern and Evesham in Worcestershire.
The regional employment base has changed gradually from one that contained a considerable, heavy manufacturing component to a more service-based economy (between 1996 and 2010, there was an 11 point decline from 22% of the workforce being in manufacturing jobs to just 11%). This shift was accompanied by low, net migration and rising unemployment. The latter now ranks as the second worst in England. Furthermore, the West Midlands has the lowest proportion of workers, male and female, in the age bracket 25 to 39 years and 14.5% of the workforce has no qualifications, a higher rate than anywhere else in England (compared with the national average of 11.2%).
Comparison of a range of health indicators in the West Midlands versus the rest of England reveals evidence of significant health inequality.
In terms of fertility, the West Midlands has the highest birth rate in England. It also has the highest infant mortality rate and during the shift from a manufacturing to a service-based economy, it was the only region in which poverty and child poverty increased.
The life expectancy for females was 1.4 years less than in the South East and the South West (at 83.3 years) where the life expectancy was estimated to be highest. The life expectancy for males was 1.9 years less than in the South East, which had the highest life expectancy (at 79.4 years). One third of West Midlands local authorities have identified particular issues in relation to physically inactive children, teenage pregnancy, male life expectancy, smoking in pregnancy, diabetes, healthy eating in adults, breastfeeding initiation and obese adults; childhood obesity, deaths by all causes, deaths by respiratory causes and infant mortality were all higher than the figures for England. The region has significant levels of inherited rare diseases, largely due to consanguinity within elements of its population.
Of additional concern is the fact that the region has the lowest per capita spend on research and development.
By contrast, some indicators were better than the England average. The level of alcohol consumption by women was lower than the England average (11 per cent versus 15 per cent), and the incidence of lung cancer among women was also lower than the England average.
Despite these statistics, which typically characterise the deprived areas, there are many affluent communities where the correspondingly different indices of health only serve to highlight the extent of the inequalities that exist.