Movement to tackle health inequalities is now an ‘unstoppable force’, Professor Sir Michael Marmot tells BMA North East event

Press release from the BMA

Location: England
Last reviewed: 2 December 2020

The movement to tackle health inequalities in the wake of the Covid pandemic is now an ‘unstoppable force’ with the same momentum as tackling climate change, Professor Sir Michael Marmot has told a special North East BMA event.

Prof Marmot, director of the University College of London Institute of Health Equity and lead author of the landmark report, ‘Health Equity in England: The Marmot Review 10 Years On’, was speaking at the BMA north east regional council’s Health Inequalities webinar on Tuesday evening.

The North East has some of the widest inequalities in the country and, along with other areas of the north of England, has suffered disproportionately during the pandemic with some of the highest infection rates in the country which have tragically led to a higher Covid death rate1.

Speaking about the worsening health inequalities in the years preceding the pandemic2, Professor Marmot said: “I can’t help but make a link between our miserable health situation at the beginning of the pandemic… something was going very wrong and perhaps it’s that ‘something’ that led to our gross mismanagement of the pandemic.”

However, with Covid shining a disturbing light on these existing health inequalities and bringing new focus on the true human impact, prof Marmot said the growing calls to address the issue must be acted on.

He said: “I would like to think that this is now an unstoppable movement, he said. “Just as dealing with the climate crisis has become unstoppable, I think the wellbeing economy is on its way.”

The hopeful words on tackling inequality will be welcome news for many and come as the first Covid vaccine is approved for use in the UK.    

The BMA north east regional council has regularly spoken out on how issues such as employment, housing, education and deprivation can impact public health and was one of the first voices to highlight how these social issues could be linked to higher Covid-19 infection rates across the region.

Speaking after the event, Dr George Rae, chair of the BMA north east regional council said: “Covid 19 is a virus that has undoubtedly affected the most vulnerable communities and the North East is among the hardest hit with our deep-rooted inequalities in health.

“It is crucial that we continue to highlight these unjust differences and put pressure on the Government to act and so we are delighted that Sir Michael accepted our invitation to speak at Tuesday’s meeting.

“He has been a leading figure in exposing health inequalities and calling for action to narrow the health gap between the poorest and more affluent parts of our society.

“Deaths from Covid are almost double in poorer communities with employment, housing, education and deprivation having played a significant part in some parts of our region’s ability to withstand the virus.

“A disturbing light has certainly been shone on the true scale and human impact in areas like the North East and it is simply unfair and unacceptable in the 21st century.

“Just this week, analysis by the Health Foundation found that as many as 77,000 premature deaths could have been averted in 2018 if everyone in the country enjoyed the same health as those living in the more affluent areas3.

“Politicians cannot continue to ignore those serious health disparities which were known about long before the pandemic struck, and we must leave no stones unturned in our efforts to resolve the situation.”

The event also heard from Joint Director of Public Health for South Tees Mark Adams, who added: “The unfair and avoidable differences in health across the population have been brought into sharp focus by Covid-19. 

“We have witnessed a social gradient in Covid mortality and in the burdens of wider harms caused by Covid clinically, socially and economically. 

“It is crucial that we use this ‘reset’ opportunity to work towards addressing the underlying inequalities which lead to unacceptable differences in life expectancy and years spent in good health across our communities.”

ENDS

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.

  1. A recent report by the Northern Health Science Alliance found that areas across the north west, north east and Yorkshire and Humber saw 12.4 deaths due to Covid per 100,000 population during the first wave of the pandemic.
  2. Health Equity in England: The Marmot Review 10 Years On
  3. The Health Foundation: Deprivation and excess deaths. Reducing inequalities in mortality in England