Urgent and comprehensive action is needed to mitigate the future impact of Covid-19 on underlying health inequalities that are avoidable and remediable in the UK, according to a new BMA report.
The ‘Mitigating the impact of Covid-19 on health inequalities’ report outlines a range of measures for Governments across the UK to ensure that those who have been most impacted by Covid-19 are protected in the immediate and longer term.
Doctors fear 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 Covid-19’s socio-economic impact.
These include school closures and the knock-on effect on vulnerable children’s wellbeing and mental health; the disproportionate impact of the virus itself on Black, Asian and ethnic minority communities; and regional variations in death rates between people living in the least and most deprived areas of the country.
Many of these underlying inequalities are avoidable and remediable
The report 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 wellbeing and must not be overshadowed by a narrow focus on health security and infectious diseases.
The recommendations include:
- Develop a comprehensive cross-Government strategy – inclusive of civil servants and politicians – to reduce health inequalities as a matter of urgency.
- Ensure vulnerable groups are appropriately supported to access to Covid-19 vaccines – including to overcome vaccine hesitancy – and are not adversely affected by measures taken to tackle the virus.
- Limit as far as possible the worsening of health inequalities due to the pandemic as a priority, including:
- Investing in mental health services to meet increased demand;
- Reducing income insecurity by making the Universal Credit uplift permanent;
- Funding support programmes which go beyond educational support for vulnerable children who have been particularly affected by the lockdowns.
Dr 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.
“The pandemic has highlighted existing difficulties faced by many people because of their living circumstances and has disproportionately affected them, both in terms of severe illness from Covid-19 and as a result of the measures which were rightly put in place to control the spread of the virus and that now needs to be acknowledged and put right.
“We know that socio-economic inequality alone costs the NHS approximately £4.8bn per year, and so as the country moves forward, it’s important that the Government takes a much more proactive approach to tackling these underlying inequalities, which have been made worse by Covid-19 and must now be viewed as a priority."