Commenting on the Health Inequalities Annual Report 2021, Dr Paul Darragh, member of BMA’s Board of Science, said: “Unfortunately this report makes for unsurprising reading and lays bare again how higher levels of deprivation leads to poorer health outcomes.
“Respiratory deaths among under-75s in the most deprived areas are three and a half times that in the least deprived; drug-related deaths are five times higher and alcohol-specific deaths four times higher; smoking during pregnancy almost five times higher in more deprived areas while death rates for intentional self-harm was more than double the rate in the least deprived. These are very worrying statistics and the real people behind these stats make up the majority of patients we treat daily.
“However, what is of greater concern is how these health inequalities will have been exacerbated by the pandemic as we start to exit lockdown and rebuild a health service with an exhausted workforce who will treat these very patients. Aside from the brave decision-making that will continue to be needed from the government to address the transformation of our health service in a continuing pandemic, it is essential that health and mental wellbeing is prioritised in all policy areas across all government departments in order to tackle the long-term effects of this pandemic and to reduce health inequalities. This includes progressing on legislation in areas such as minimum unit pricing for alcohol* and a ban on smoking in cars with children**, alongside targeted support for those who want to address their drinking and smoking habits, drug misuse and mental health difficulties.
“It is also important that all healthcare professionals receive adequate training in identifying and delivering interventions into areas such as mental health and substance misuse - both at an undergraduate level as medical students and as part of their postgraduate development – and are supported to be able to deliver this in their roles as frontline doctors.”
Notes to editors
* The Department of Health is currently consulting on Minimum Unit Pricing for Alcohol legislation for Northern Ireland, the only area of the UK without such legislation in place.
** The Health (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 2016, which includes prohibition of use of tobacco or nicotine products in a private vehicle, is still awaiting regulations to be laid in order to enforce the restrictions passed in the legislation.