Sir Chris Whitty steps out along the coast on a visit to Scarborough

Professor Sir Chris Whitty, England’s chief medical officer, had a bracing introduction to Scarborough on his fact-finding visit as he walked part of a coastal route with Louise Wallace North Yorkshire’s Director of Public Health.

On a bright and breezy morning he stepped out on a Discoveries On Your Doorstep route around Scarborough Castle and the town’s bays. This is a North Yorkshire public health-funded initiative to encourage everyone including families and groups to use public rights of way in their local area.

The chief medical officer was in Scarborough last Friday to see work on the ground in communities and in the hospital and how the area is tackling the rebuilding of its social, health and economic life following the ravages of the Covid pandemic.

The visit follows last year’s annual report in which he focused on coastal communities which have higher rates of poor health and lower life expectancies and how these beautiful places can mask significant deprivation.

“We wanted Professor Whitty to see the way communities have pulled together across the area during the pandemic” said Louise Wallace “and to show the challenges we face as well as the opportunities ahead.”

Following his walk Professor Whitty visited The Street to meet health, education and social care partners as well as community leaders and representatives from the Scarborough campus of Coventry University.

Among other initiatives, he learnt that the town will produce its first nursing graduates this summer and that speech and language development in early years which was funded through the Opportunity Area Programme, continues in Scarborough’s schools.  He also learnt of the commended work to attract and retain teachers to the coast and to attract employers that offer skills-based, longer-term employment rather than short-term seasonal jobs.

“It’s been a real privilege to come to talk to colleagues in Scarborough doing an amazing job to support the local communities on health and also social care” said Professor Whitty. “There are many difficulties in terms of providing health care in coastal areas, but Scarborough is being incredibly innovative in the way that it does that and I’ve learnt so much.”

“There is a can-do attitude to tackle health inequalities and improve educational opportunities and develop the skills-base of the area” added Louise Wallace. “We were glad to show Professor Whitty the huge range of work that is going on to improve people’s lives.”

The Street is owned and managed by Coast and Vale Community Action, one of the community support organisations funded by North Yorkshire County Council’s Stronger Community’s Programme to provide an emergency response to Covid.  It houses facilities such as a sports hall, music rooms and climbing wall used by young people and groups working with children in pre-school and the school readiness scheme.

From the Street Professor Whitty went on to visit the Rainbow Centre which is funded by a range of partners and provides a food bank, community café, debt advice, support for people who are homeless, support for Afghan refugees and people from Eastern European communities and asylum seekers.

Professor Whitty’s Scarborough tour also took in a visit to Scarborough hospital to learn about workforce challenges as well as developments in provision and practice.

Simon Morritt, Chief Executive, York and Scarborough Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust said: “I was pleased to be able to welcome Professor Whitty to Scarborough Hospital. His recent report, Health in Coastal Communities, highlights the common challenges facing these communities with regard to health and wellbeing, from demographic and economic issues to the difficulties in recruiting health and care staff.

“We welcome the chance to talk to Professor Whitty about these issues, and to discuss with him what might be done to address them for the future benefit of our local population.”

Stephen Eames, Chief Executive (Designate), Humber, Coast and Vale Health and Care Partnership (Integrated Care System):

‘We welcomed this opportunity as a partnership to demonstrate the strength and resilience created by connecting up resources across the Scarborough community. This partnership spirit has sustained many of our communities during the pandemic, and we will continue to foster the power of this approach as we face future challenges in tackling our health and wider inequalities as part of the Integrated Care System coastal communities strategy.”

Mike Greene, chief executive, Scarborough Borough Council, said: “It was a pleasure to welcome Professor Whitty to Scarborough  and  a useful opportunity to explain some of the health challenges we face on the North Yorkshire coast.

“Scarborough is an amazing place which many people come to visit, but the beauty can sometimes mask issues which affect many people in our communities.

“Creating a better place where people have healthier and happier lives is at the heart of the work we’re doing to reduce inequalities.”