The BMA in Scotland is calling for health-inequality impact assessments to be introduced across all areas of government policy to drive down inequalities.
Statistics on inequalities show that the gap between the richest and poorest continues to be wide, especially in areas such as alcohol-related deaths and heart attacks.
BMA Scottish council chair Brian Keighley said it was good news that, overall, people were living longer, healthier lives. But he added: ‘For those people living in the most deprived communities the inequalities in health have never been more apparent.
‘We cannot simply continue to argue that public health policies are working to improve the lives of Scots, when the differences between rich and poor are so apparent. No matter how many taskforces and inquiries politicians establish they are no substitute for action.’
Public health minister Michael Matheson said that reducing the health gap between people in Scotland’s most deprived and affluent communities was ‘one of our greatest challenges’.
He added: ‘At the root is the issue of income inequality — we need a shift in emphasis from dealing with the consequences to tackling the underlying causes, such as ending poverty, fair wages, supporting families and improving our physical and social environments.’
He said the Scottish government was working with all partners to tackle poverty and inequality, in the face of the UK government’s welfare cuts, but that there was a limit to what could be done.
Mr Matheson said: ‘We are continuing to take decisive action in areas we have control, for example to address alcohol consumption, reduce smoking rates, encourage active living, healthy eating, and promote positive mental health.
‘But without full control over areas [such as] welfare, we are left having to deal with UK government welfare policies that only threaten to make things worse.’
Dr Keighley said that the health effects of social inequalities were a huge burden on the NHS. He added: ‘While doctors can do all they can to treat these illnesses, they will not reduce the drivers of inequality in society. Giving people access to jobs, good education, quality housing and welfare support would help to reduce the gap, thereby relieving pressure on the health service.’
Read Long-term Monitoring of Health Inequalities