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Mile End Institute

Better health for all? Lifelong Health in East London

In our latest Blog, Joanna Brown explores how QMUL's groundbreaking Lifelong Health team is using the School of Medicine and Dentistry's expertise to benefit people living in the East End of London and considers the effect of the Levelling Up White Paper on their work. 

Photo of Terraced Flats in East End of London
Estimated Reading Time: 3-4 minutes.

Every political campaign needs a strapline - a short, punchy sentence that conveys the vision and captures the public's imagination. Although such straplines have always been implicit in universities, the commercialisation of higher education has brought them to the fore. In the Faculty of Medicine and Dentistry, our vision is clear. We want to achieve better health for all through world-leading medical research and education. 

As academics working in East London, we know that 'better health for all' is not the reality for many in our community. There are stark inequalities right on our doorstep. One way we can measure this is by looking at rates of healthy life expectancy - how many years a person can expect to live in good health. A female in Newham can expect to have 10 fewer years of healthy life than a female living in Kensington and Chelsea. For males living in Hackney, they can typically expect nearly 13 fewer years in good health than their peers in Richmond. 

How do researchers and policymakers respond to challenges like these? The Government's recent Levelling Up agenda is clear that reducing the gap in healthy life expectancy is a priority. It sets out the ambitious goal of reducing the disparities between local areas by 2030, and seeing a 5-year increase in healthy life expectancy by 2030. The report highlights the importance of multiple policy actors working together to achieve this, from housing and education to sport and culture. 

Transport for London map showing Mile End and the area around Queen Mary University of LondonHere at Queen Mary, the new Lifelong Health research theme (led by Dr Li Chan and Dr Sian Henson) is committed to using the research expertise within the University to benefit our local population. Tackling such complex social challenges cannot be the remit of one discipline alone. Our theme is underpinned by a biopsychosocial approach, which considers how the complex interactions between our biology, brain and social environment can affect our health. We aim to diversify the teams working on these health challenges to yield new insights, always ensuring that the voice of community is at the heart of our research. 

Last month, we held a 'whiteboard session' with data scientists, clinicians and sports medicine specialists to discuss assistive technologies for people living with chronic conditions. Assistive technologies (such as a stairlift or hearing aid) can range in their technological complexity, but are designed to promote independence for patients and improve quality of life. As well as discussing the clinical and financial implications of these devices, we explored using AI tools to analyse conversations on patient forums. This could provide valuable insights into how patients feel about assistive technologies to triangulate with routinely collected health data. 

Bringing a health inequalities lens to the conversation helped us to appreciate the wider factors that can affect the success of an assistive technology. A stairlift might function perfectly well at the factory, but lack of coordination between NHS and social care pathways could prevent in reaching the patients who need it most. Factors such as postcode, comorbidities, and proficiency in English could further exacerbate the inequalities faced by patients with chronic conditions, as they may not feel able to advocate for their needs. 

Photo of Whitechapel Market with London Hospital in backgroundOur Faculty's goal of better health for all is purposely ambitious. Achieving it will mean working across silos within the University and engaging meaningfully with external stakeholders in our local community. Our themes are open to anyone who would like to join us, so please do email us if you would like to get involved. 

Joanna Brown is the Research Project Manager for the Lifelong Health research theme, which is based in the Faculty of Medicine and Dentistry at Queen Mary University of London. If you would like to find out more, please visit the Lifelong Health website or email:



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