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Health inequality gap persists

Belvidere Surgery, Shrewsbury 9-01-2018

Doctors leaders in Scotland have warned there is still a ‘massive distance to travel’ to make real inroads into cutting the health inequality gap.

BMA Scotland council chair Lewis Morrison said that finding solutions must be ‘at the top of the political agenda’ and that it should be something to strive to achieve across society.

Dr Morrison was speaking as the Long-term Monitoring of Health Inequalities report showed that significant health inequalities persist for almost all indicators covered by the report.

These include:

  • Premature death
  • Long-term conditions
  • Morbidity and mortality relating to alcohol
  • Cancer
  • Heart disease.

Dr Morrison said: ‘These statistics should leave us in absolutely no doubt that stark and unacceptable health inequalities persist across Scotland.

‘The significantly worse health of those who live in our most deprived areas compared to the substantially better outcomes for those who live in the least deprived areas is a persistent, substantial issue that simply cannot be ignored.’

He said that taking an optimistic view, important steps have already been made such as minimum unit pricing and smoke-free legislation.

‘This shows that Scotland is able to take world-leading measures, and we must not take a step back from this direction of travel,’ he added.


Wider gap

Professor Derek Bell, president of the Royal College of Physicians of Edinburgh, said that while the report was mixed, and showed some apparent progress, the health inequalities had widened on alcohol-related deaths, standing at 10 per cent higher than at the start of the time series in 1997.

‘In particular, the college notes that although absolute inequalities in premature death are narrower now than they were anytime pre-2010 – which is to be welcomed – the gap between the most and least deprived communities has grown since 2013.’

He called for more work to be done to prevent conditions such as type 2 diabetes, backed by analysis of reliable data.

Public health minister Joe FitzPatrick said that tackling the inequalities in health that the most deprived and vulnerable in our society experience was one of the most important challenges facing Scotland.

‘We have made significant progress in a number of areas such as healthy birthweight, alcohol-related hospital admissions and deaths from heart disease.

'But, as today’s report shows, there remain entrenched and stubborn issues that we must address. That is why we are taking decisive action on matters such as alcohol, smoking, physical activity and healthy eating.’

He added that health inequalities were a symptom of wider income inequality and that the Scottish Government was taking action to end poverty.


Public health

Dr Morrison called on ministers to take decisive action on public health measures as well as on the wider agenda on tackling poverty.

‘Plans to consult on restricting alcohol marketing and the current consultation on introducing restrictions to price promotions and some marketing of products that are high in fat, salt or sugar provide further opportunities to make a real difference, and we look to the Scottish Government to be bold in these areas,’ he said.

‘But equally, reducing health inequalities will need concerted action across many areas like low pay, poor educational outcomes and inadequate housing.

'These statistics simply must prompt continued and urgent action on all these areas and across all levels of government.’

Read the report

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