Where is The North? Where is The South? The NHS can help

Perhaps the most evocative road signs are those that mention not a city or town, but a region – particularly when that region is The North, which appears (as The NORTH) on signs as far south as Upper Street in Islington. But there is a problem: where is The North, or at least, where is its southern boundary?

England is split into local authorities, counties and government regions. None of these are called The North. And those signs may be misleading, as they sometimes seem to be giving directions, not pointing to areas. If you leave Blackpool on the M55, the junction with the M6 offers the following choice: The North (as if you weren’t already there) and The South, with Manchester and Liverpool as subheadings.

However, thanks to former health secretary Andrew Lansley, there is an official definition. As part of the current reorganisation of the NHS, Lansley grouped the 10 strategic health authorities (SHAs), which were pretty much based on the nine English government regions (one region, the south-east, was split into two) into four ‘clusters’, and these will continue as regions of the NHS Commissioning Board. Those regions are London, the South, the Midlands and East… and the North.

Map removed as Google Fusion Tables no longer works.

NHS North of England covers the north-east, north-west and Yorkshire and Humber government regions/SHAs. Its border follows the southern edge of Cheshire, the eastern side of Greater Manchester, then the southern edges of Yorkshire and what used to Humberside, now North and North-East Lincolnshire. It is shown in red on the above map, and is good starting point in defining The North. (For what it’s worth, Wikipedia uses the same definition.)

But surely The North should expand a bit, to take in sections of northern Staffordshire and Derbyshire (in orange)? On the NHS definition, Robbie Williams is from the Midlands (Stoke-on-Trent), as is most of the Peak District. Surely not.

The South is even more problematic. NHS South of England, shown in blue on the map, is formed from the south-west and south-east government regions (or, strictly speaking, the three SHAs that take up the same space – which also been the coverage area of the Southern Programme for IT within the NHS National Programme for IT) . That works fine in the west, with the northern edges of Gloucestershire, Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire acting as the edge of The South – although a few districts of Worcestershire and Warwickshire deserve a transfer (specifically, those partly in the Cotswolds).

But then it goes awry, with the official border diving to the northern edge of London (which although a separate NHS region, is here included in The South). Surely, The South should incorporate Bedfordshire, southern Cambridgeshire, Essex and southern Suffolk – all in green on the map. (Wikipedia goes further, putting all of the East of England region in The South.)

The only problem with pushing out the borders of both North and South in this fashion is that three NHS regions with roughly similar populations become two bigger ones with a diet Brummie sandwich in the middle (in yellow). But then, it’s rare to find someone calling themselves a professional Midlander.

Local authority polygons courtesy of Guardian Data Store
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