Long life for ladies in the Western Isles

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WOMEN in the Western Isles have one of the highest life expectancies in Scotland with the average island woman living to the age of around 83.

The islands are only one of three health board areas to achieve above average increases for womens’ life expectancy over the last ten years. The Scottish average is 80 years old.

The news is not so good for the isles’ male population, however, who have lower life expectancy than the Scottish average of just over 75. The average island man lives to 74 – nine years less than local women.

These figures are within the Annual Report by NHS Western Isles’ Director of Public Health Sheila Scott which was presented to the Health Board this week.

Dr Scott has been off work during the last year but says her team had risen to the challenges they faced and continued to provide a full public health service in her absence.

“NHS Western Isles continues to lead through example and through creative innovation on service modelling and services design,” she said in the foreword.

A spokesperson for the Board said the figures for life expectancy had improved in the Western Isles but the gap remained between men and women.

“The life expectancy has improved from the early 1980s from 77.0 (females) and 68.1 (males) to the latest levels shown in the latest Director of Public Health’s Annual Report but the gap has remained and has not shown any trend of reducing. The male/female difference in life expectancy is common across all of Scotland though larger gap tends to feature in west coast areas of Scotland particularly the Western Isles.”

She added: “Women also show higher life expectancy at birth than the Scottish level as far back as 1981-83 - 77 yrs (WI) v. 75.49 for Scotland.”

With the islands having a poor reputation for their health, this latest report does make encouraging reading in many areas, especially with successful initiatives being taken forward such as the Well North programme and the Board have exceeded the national target for Alcohol Brief Interventions.

The main cause of death in the Western Isles is cancer, closely followed by circulatory disease, which together comprised around two thirds of all causes of death in the Western Isles between 2007 and 2009.

The ageing population was covered in the report and particularly the fact that long term conditions and mental health must be priorities for the future.

Cases of dementia are expected to increase dramatically between now and 2031 in the islands from just over 500 currently to over 800.

Against national targets, the local board is performing well having achieved the level for the child healthy weight intervention programme; alcohol brief interventions; suicide prevention training; and inequalities targeted cardiovascular health checks.

The report notes that 75 per cent of women in the Western Isles are overweight or obese and recent research has found that a third of women do not like others to see how they look when taking part in sport and physical activity.

To address these issues, the health board have looked at ways to develop community based health initiatives which have proved successful such a women’s group in Lochs and to build on this success, Community Education are submitting a bid to Leader to roll this out to the islands.

Despite a long list of positive initiatives which are helping the health of islanders, NHS Western Isles has not met the target for 80 per cent of all three to five year old children to be registered with an NHS Dentist. The current level is around 55 per cent.