With just one week to go before the Senedd election, 36 organisations from across health, social care, transport, and housing have signed up to a joint paper which calls for urgent Welsh Government action on health inequalities.

Endorsed by organisations from across the third sector, including the Academy of Medical Royal Colleges in Wales, the British Medical Association, Macmillan Cancer Support, and the British Red Cross, the paper calls on the next Welsh Government to:

  • publish an ambitious cross-government strategy and delivery plan to tackle inequalities
  • invest in long-term prevention across all sectors, especially housing, education, health, energy, and transport
  • work in partnership with people and communities to change lives for the better.

This short paper offers ideas for initial steps that an incoming Welsh Government could take in their first year to respond urgently to health inequalities and make the greatest possible impact by coordinating renewed commitment from all partners. The ideas outlined in the paper focus on ways of working that would ensure that the collective impact is amplified.

Tackling the social causes of health inequalities has never been more urgent

The paper said that the incredible hardship inflicted by the Covid-19 pandemic has not been felt equally by individuals, families, and communities across Wales. For some, the consequences have been devastating. During the first phase of the pandemic the mortality rate involving Covid-19 in the most deprived areas in Wales was nearly twice as high as that in the least deprived areas.

In addition, 33% of Covid-19 cases admitted to critical care were from ethnic minority communities, compared to only 14% of the total population and 22% of households in Wales lost at least 20% of their weekly income between February and April 2020. 

Dr Olwen Williams, Royal College of Physicians vice president for Wales said: "As doctors, we’re seeing first-hand the impact of unfair and avoidable differences in health and wellbeing between different groups of people. It’s not at all surprising that when a pandemic piled pressure onto our health system, the people who suffered the most were those who were already struggling. Tackling the social causes of health inequalities has never been more urgent: this is not an issue to be addressed once the pandemic is behind us."

This paper follows an open letter to the First Minister and Senedd opposition party leaders in February 2021, calling for a cross-government strategy on health inequalities.

In reply, the Welsh Government acknowledged that "health inequalities arise as a result of the social and economic inequalities that shape the conditions in which people are born, grow, live, learn, work and age … the impact of healthcare on health inequalities is relatively small".

Professor Peter Saul, joint-chair of the Royal College of General Practitioners Cymru Wales added:  "There are lots of ideas to tackle the inequality of health outcomes that blight the life chances of so many. To harness these ideas, we need a strategy that unites different policy remits and is answerable in political terms to the First Minister, and in community terms to the very people it is seeking to help. I think this policy paper helps us to bring people together behind that vision and can put Wales at the forefront of efforts to tackle health inequality in the first year of the new Welsh Government."