UK poverty impacting health inequalities

Government must prioritise poverty like they do waiting lists, says think tank

The King’s Fund has called on the government to address the “vicious cycle” of poverty and the repercussions it has on health inequalities across the country.

New analysis from the think tank, entitled ‘Illustrating the relationship between poverty and NHS services’, concludes that while the NHS can treat the symptoms of poverty, only the government can tackle the root causes.

The report highlights that 30% of those living in the most deprived areas have contacted 999, 111 or visited an emergency department or walk-in centre because they could not get a GP appointment – this figure is 10% for people in the least deprived areas.

It is also emphasised that 49% of those living in the most deprived areas say the cost-of-living crisis has impacted their physical health – 27% for the least deprived areas.

“…widening health inequalities and deepening deprivation must be tackled head on…”

Even when prevalence of a disease is lower among deprived communities, data shows that it can sometimes still be more deadly.

Despite dementia being 1.4 times less prevalent in the most deprived areas of England, the mortality rate is 1.6 times higher.

People in the most deprived areas are also 1.3 times less likely to suffer from the heart condition atrial fibrillation, but deaths compared to the least deprived regions are 1.6 times higher.

The stigma around poverty, the cost of travelling, NHS charges, and problems accessing online services are some of the reasons why patients may struggle to benefit from diagnostics and treatment.

The King’s Fund’s chief executive, Sarah Woolnough, said: “While the NHS can be a force in addressing poverty, as we head towards a general election, widening health inequalities and deepening deprivation must be tackled head on by government and policy-makers.”

The analysis, which was funded and commissioned by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, also showed that some NHS services have taken positive steps to address the impact poverty has on healthcare.

“…tackling poverty must be as much of a priority as bringing down waiting lists.”

The Children’s Hospital Alliance, for example, has implemented an AI programme across 10 hospitals that helps identify children at risk of missing appointments, and offers things like free transport or in-school appointments as alternatives.

Senior analyst at The King’s Fund, Saoirse Mallorie, explained: “To improve the nation’s health and use NHS resources in the best way, tackling poverty must be as much of a priority as bringing down waiting lists.”

She continued: “Bolder action from government, economic and civic society is needed to lift millions of people out of poverty and break this vicious cycle of poverty and its impact on poor health.”

NHS Providers’ chief executive, Sir Julian Hartley, said the government must realise the importance of public health investment to reduce poverty and tackle deep-seated health inequalities.

"Much more funding is needed if we are going to reverse the effects of years of local public health cuts,” added Julian. The government must work hand in hand with the NHS, says Julian.

Image credit: iStock

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