Doctors are warning that UK Governments must urgently take action to address health inequalities, that have worsened in the pandemic, and impacted societies’ most vulnerable individuals.
In a report launched today, ‘Mitigating the impact of Covid-19 on health inequalities’, the BMA 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.
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, risks negatively impacting the nation’s future health if action isn’t urgently taken.
BMA Cymru Wales wants to use this as an opportunity to work towards addressing the underlying inequalities which lead to unacceptable and avoidable differences in life expectancy, as well as quality of life across all communities in Wales.
The Senedd election this May, 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 report outlines a number of key recommendations for all governments to ensure that Wales can benefit from the ‘levelling up’ agenda and build back better after the pandemic, including:
- develop comprehensive cross-Government strategies – 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 the UK Government 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, to reduce the risk of adverse childhood experiences.
Dr David Bailey, Chair of the BMA’s Welsh Council, said: “The pandemic has perpetuated and worsened health inequalities across the UK and it is unacceptable that we have seen so many people, including children, living in poverty and unable to access the necessities they need.
“In Wales over a third of the years of life lost are due to socioeconomic inequality and many of these inequalities could be avoided if communities were given the support they need.
“The pandemic has further highlighted the existing difficulties faced by many people because of their living circumstances and Covid-19 has disproportionately affected them. We need only look to the fact that Rhondda Cynon Taf has highest death rate in the UK and is also one of only two areas of Wales with more than 30 people unemployed and claiming benefits per job vacancy.”
Dr Bailey, who is a GP in Caerphilly, went on to add: “From now on it is important that Welsh Government takes a much more proactive approach to tackling these underlying inequalities and improving the health of our population, as a healthy population is better protected from new viruses as well as from long-tern health conditions and infections.
"We hope that this report launched by the BMA across the UK will help set out the actions which are needed as we exit lockdown. This report follows on from our paper setting out the BMA’s approach to easing lockdown restrictions and forms part of our longer term work on health inequalities, led by the BMA’s President Sir Harry Burns.
“Welsh Government has already said that it will build back better after the pandemic, and we look forward to working with them to improve the long-term health of Wales.”
Notes to editors
The BMA is a trade union and professional association representing and negotiating on behalf of all doctors in the UK. A leading voice advocating for outstanding health care and a healthy population. An association providing members with excellent individual services and support throughout their lives.
- BMA report ‘Mitigating the impact of COVID-19 on health inequalities’.
- Details on the restructure of Public Health England.
- BMA paper: ‘Taking a cautious approach to easing lockdown restrictions’.