A picture of huge variation in avoidable deaths in England has been unveiled by a new website launched this week by Public Health England (PHE).

Fresh data published via PHE's Longer Lives project has shown which Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt describes as "shocking" differences in early mortality from the big four killers - cancer, heart disease and stroke, lung disease and liver disease - which account for 75% of the 153,000 premature deaths in the country.

Overall it shows that the north of England has a higher risk of early death than the south, although it was noted a more complex picture emerges when comparing areas of a similar socio-economic status in both regions.

Differences in risk factors such as obesity, alcohol, smoking and socioeconomic determinants are widely believed to be the driving factors in the variation between local authorities, and according to the health secretary 30,000 lives a year could be saved by 2020 if action is taken to address these issues.

Local councils were handed the baton for public health in April this year as part of the new health landscape, with help from government funding of £5.46 billion over the next two years.

The Longer Lives project is designed to highlight inequalities in premature mortality in England and showcase examples of effective local interventions in the hope that this will help communities work together to live longer and healthier lives.

“Being more transparent will allow professionals and the public to see how their local area is performing over time, allowing them to intervene and make improvements happen,” said Hunt.

Offering a one-stop-shop for data on premature deaths should help local councils gain better insight into the situations they have inherited, allowing them to identify areas of concern and take action, according to the Department of Health.

Manchester worst, Wokingham best

Within England, top-line figures show that Manchester has the worst early death rate (with 455 per 100,000 of the population) while Wokingham has the best (with 200 per 100,000).

But LGA community wellbeing board chair Zoe Patrick (Lib Dem) has urged caution when looking at the data. 

"Using it out of context to create any sort of national league table dangerously oversimplifies matters and ignores the very complex socio-economic and cultural factors that affect the premature mortality rate,” she said, according to the Local Government Chronicle.

“Attempts to measure performance and rank councils in this way are therefore deeply troubling,” she stressed.