Reducing the life expectancy gap between the UK’s richest and poorest individuals will be a crucial test of whether a planned £20 billion cash injection to the NHS budget can be considered a success, health experts have warned.
Representatives from UK health bodies and charities voiced their concerns at a recent health inequality summit convened by the National Pharmacy Association.
The participants, who included Patients Association chief executive Rachel Power and NPA chair Nitin Sodha, signed a declaration urging Government and society to “put their shoulders to the wheel in the pursuit of health equality” and reminding Theresa May that in her first speech as prime minister she described the life expectancy gap as a "burning injustice.”
According to the NPA, men in the least deprived areas live on average nine years longer than men in the most deprived areas, while the corresponding gap for women is seven years.
An NPA spokesperson said: “The NSH 10 year plan is an opportunity to redouble efforts to reduce health inequality – within and beyond the health service. The signatories to this declaration want to push health inequality decisively up the agenda of politicians, the NHS and wider society.”
Inequalities in health characterised by huge variations in life expectancy are unacceptable in this, the 70th anniversary of the NHS, which was created out of the ideal that good healthcare should be available to all, regardless of wealth.
Health inequality appears to have been increasing for much of the past 10 years, and indeed has done so at many points since 1948 when the NHS was formed. But it is not inevitable that this trend continues.
Excellent health and social care services must be available to the communities and people most in need. If healthcare makes a difference, but is not distributed according to need, the NHS itself widens inequalities in health. Therefore one of the acid tests of the forthcoming long term NHS Plan should be whether the poorest patients and communities benefit from the new investment promised.
We acknowledge the significance of the wider determinants of health, such as childcare, housing and education, as well as adopting practices within the NHS that promote wellness. So it must be that all parts of government and society put their shoulders to the wheel in the pursuit of health equality.
The Prime Minister called it a “burning injustice” that, “if you’re born poor, you will die on average nine years earlier than others”. We agree. Let us all work together to bring that injustice to an end.