Government must urgently address health inequalities

The BMA has said that the government must urgently take action to address health inequalities, that have worsened in the pandemic, and impacted societies’ most vulnerable individuals.

Mitigating the impact of Covid-19 on health inequalities, the new report from the doctors union, outlines a range of measures for governments across the UK to ensure that those who have been most impacted by coronavirus are protected in the immediate and longer term.

The BMA fears that the unacceptable inequalities that existed before the pandemic will only worsen for families who have been pushed into poverty, and disadvantaged communities that face further hardship due to job losses and the socio-economic impact of the pandemic.

The report highlights concerns over: school closures; the disproportionate impact of the virus itself on BAME communities; and regional variations in death rates between people living in the least and most deprived areas of the country.

The BMA wants to use this as an opportunity to work towards addressing the underlying inequalities which lead to unacceptable and avoidable differences in life expectancy, as well as quality of life across all communities. It says that the restructure of Public Health England presents a vital opportunity to make addressing health inequalities a central part of the national approach to health and well-being and must not be overshadowed by a narrow focus on health security and infectious diseases.

Amongst its recommendations, the BMA says that ministers should develop a comprehensive cross-government strategy to reduce health inequalities as a matter of urgency, as well as continue to ensure that vulnerable groups are appropriately supported to access to coronavirus vaccines and are not adversely affected by measures taken to tackle the virus.

Penelope Toff, co-chair of the BMA Public Health Medicine Committee, said: “There’s no doubt that the pandemic has perpetuated and worsened health inequalities within the UK and it’s simply unacceptable that in a country of such means we’ve seen so many people, including children, living in poverty and unable to access basic necessities such as sufficient and nourishing food. Many of these underlying inequalities are avoidable and remediable and there is both a moral and economic case for them to be addressed without delay.

“We hope that this report launched by the BMA today will help towards setting out the actions which are needed as we exit lockdown. This report follows on from our paper setting out the BMA’s approach to easing lockdown restrictions and forms part of our longer term work on health inequalities, led by the BMA’s President Sir Harry Burns. In the immediate recovery phase, the government in England must begin to make good on its promise to build back better by ‘building back fairer,’ with a clear commitment to a more equitable society with better health outcomes for all.”

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