Health Inequality 'Must Be Focus for Change Post-pandemic'

Peter Russell

January 08, 2021

Equity of health and wellbeing must be a central strategy of Government policy as the country emerges from the COVID-19 pandemic, it was argued today.

Sir Michael Marmot/RCP

Sir Michael Marmot, director of the Institute of Health Equity at University College London, warned of a "real danger that Government policy will be oriented to recovering gross domestic product" and that this would be a "completely wrong" approach. Sir Michael was taking part in a seminar on day 2 of the RCP's virtual annual conference examining healthcare inequalities in the UK and how they could be addressed by doctors, the Government, and health leaders.

Sir Michael's Build Back Fairer report published in December 2020 suggested that inequalities in social and economic conditions before the pandemic contributed to high and unequal mortality from COVID-19.

The review called for the nation's health to be top priority and for a boost in public health investment to mitigate the impact of the pandemic.

Sir Michael emphasised that the 2010 general election that led to a Conservative/Liberal Democrat coalition "reduced public expenditure from 42% of gross domestic product to 35% as a dramatic rolling back of the state, and they did it in a most regressive way".

He added: "We do not want to go back to the status quo," and called for a series of measures led by a focus on reducing child poverty.

Social Justice

"Every doctor needs to understand the wider social determinants of health," said Prof Dame Donna Kinnair, general secretary of the Royal College of Nursing. They needed to raise issues such as "why are there so many children packed into a very small environment, why are we not able to provide better housing, better education, why are all the fish and chip shops in the poorest areas?"

Prof Cheng-Hock Toh, academic vice president of the RCP, said: "We have a role I think in campaigning for social justice."

Prof Sir Stephen Holgate, honorary consultant physician at University Hospital Southampton, said more should be done to protect people from the harmful effects of air pollution that disproportionately affected those living in poorer, mainly inner city areas.

Describing air pollution as a "silent killer", he said people would be "out on the streets shouting" if the same harmful effects had been passed on through the water supply.

"I would love the health and medical community to take more ownership of this area," he said.

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