Royal College of Physicians (RCP) Cymru Wales has written today (22 February 2021) on behalf of the Welsh NHS Confederation health and social care policy forum to the first minister to call for a cross-government strategy for tackling wider health inequalities in Wales.
The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the widening gap in health inequalities and the growing link between poverty and poor health outcomes. 34 organisations in Wales including royal colleges, the British Medical Association, Cancer Research Wales, Samaritans Cymru, Community Housing Cymru, and the Association of Directors of Social Services Cymru have now come together to highlight the growing impact of long-term chronic illness on our society.
A recent poll,1 commissioned by the RCP for the launch of the UK Inequalities in Health Alliance, found widespread public concern over health inequalities and overwhelming support for action. In Wales:
- 82% of respondents want to see a government strategy to reduce inequalities in health
- 61% think governments across the UK should be doing more to address health inequalities
- 63% are concerned that the health gap between wealthy and deprived areas is growing
- 82% think that all parts of government should have to consider the impact of their policies on people who are less well off, with more than half strongly agreeing
- 25% of respondents selected long-term health conditions as the health inequality they are most concerned about, with 17% opting for poor mental health.
The next Senedd election will take place in May 2021. We are now urging all political parties to commit to developing a cross-government health inequalities strategy with a clear action plan and milestones, working in collaboration with partners across every sector.
A wider strategy is required because health inequality is the result of many and varied factors. It should not sit solely within one minister’s portfolio; tackling it should be a priority running through all government activity and be a priority for all organisations.
We believe that social care and the NHS alone simply don’t have the levers to make some of the other radical changes we know are vital, including action to tackle poor housing, access to education, and poverty reduction, which sit across a variety of government portfolios.
Dr Olwen Williams, RCP vice president for Wales said:
‘It is a decade since the Welsh government committed to Fairer health outcomes for all. Sadly, in that time, growing health inequalities have been exposed and amplified by the COVID-19 pandemic. We cannot afford further deterioration – we need to take action to support those most at risk of ill-health if our nation is going to prosper.’
Dr David Bailey, chair of the Welsh Council for the BMA added:
‘The COVID-19 pandemic has only helped to further expose the significant health inequalities that already existed across Wales. Deaths from COVID-19 have been higher in poorer communities with employment, housing, education and deprivation playing a significant part in some parts of our nation’s ability to withstand the virus. We want to see a robust and long-term plan from the Welsh government to help tackle this issue and shape a healthier future for everyone in Wales.’
Stuart Ropke, chief executive of Community Housing Cymru said:
‘The COVID-19 pandemic has laid bare the importance of home. There is strong evidence that poor housing is associated with poor physical and mental health; it costs the NHS in Wales more than £95m per year in treatment costs. By investing in new and existing homes that are adaptable, warm, and safe we can make a huge contribution to preventing ill health in the first place, and support people to remain independent in their own homes for as long as possible. Overcoming the scale of health inequalities in Wales needs a cross-government strategy that brings Wales’ collective resources to the table and tackles the root causes of poor health.’