In his first column of the New Year, Jason Brock, the leader of Reading Borough Council has called for members of the public to take part in a consultation on health and wellbeing priorities in the Thames Valley. Councillor Brock writes:

It’s that time of the year where you can’t move for adverts and advice on New Year health kicks. All very commendable.

We’ve been unashamedly joining in at the Council too, glorifying in the magnificence of Reading’s fantastic new community swimming pool and modern leisure facilities at Palmer Park, which opened just before Christmas. If you are turning over a new fitness leaf in 2023, give it a visit. You won’t be disappointed.

But I want to talk about health more broadly too. Perhaps not quite as exciting as a new pool, but nevertheless hugely important.

The Buckinghamshire, Oxfordshire and Berkshire West Integrated Care Partnership – otherwise known as BOB – have launched an important engagement exercise asking people across the region what they think of a set of proposed priorities to improve health and wellbeing. Nearly two million people live across the BOB area, which incorporates Reading as the largest town in the patch. When you stop and look at the sheer size of that catchment area, and the diversity of health needs, settling on an agreed set of priorities that will ultimately help dictate where limited resources are directed is no easy task. Many issues cross over county lines, others do not.

Reading has an especially sobering statistic. As the third most unequal town or city nationally for wealth distribution, there is a difference in life expectancy of seven years for men and eight years for women between the most and least affluent areas of our town. Looking at the whole of the BOB region, people in less affluent areas develop poor health 10-15 years earlier than their more affluent neighbours.

It is one of the main reasons that a key Council priority for a few years now has been to do everything we can to ensure that everyone – no matter their background and the challenges they face – can share in the benefits of Reading’s success, breaking down barriers and ensuring no one is left behind.

The pandemic shone a bright light on the health inequalities in our societies, which we knew existed, but we maybe didn’t talk about enough. As always, the biggest impact was felt by those with the lowest incomes and, I’m afraid to say, the same will continue to apply in the year ahead given the forecast economic conditions.

We already know that the places and circumstances where people are born, grow up, live, and learn influence how happy and healthy they are. That is why it is so important we gather as many responses as possible to the draft BOB priorities. We need to ensure all communities are represented in this engagement exercise so that resources can be directed to where they will make the biggest difference to people lives.

You can find those draft priorities online here or you can request a printed copy by calling 0300 123 4465 or emailing The survey is open until 29th January.

The local NHS and partnership vision for the people who live in our area is to ensure that we all have the best possible start in life; live happier, healthier lives for longer; and get the right support when we need it – but ordinary residents need to help shape what that vision looks like in its detail. If you have a view, remember to tell BOB.