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Press release: Urgent action needed to tackle health inequalities, says new coalition

The Inequalities in Health Alliance has written to local MPs in the North of England to call for action to urgently address health inequalities.

Local MPs in the North of England are being urged by the recently formed Inequalities in Health Alliance (IHA) to back its call for action to address avoidable differences in health between and within different parts of the country: a call given extra urgency by the pandemic. 

The IHA is demanding a cross-government strategy to reduce health inequalities: unfair and avoidable differences in health across the population, and between different groups within society. Health inequalities, which may involve differences in access to health care or the standards of care available, can damage quality of life and even shorten life expectancy.  

The ten local authorities in England with the lowest life expectancy from birth are all in the North and all but one of those with the highest are in London or the South East.* In many cases, life expectancies also roughly correlate with COVID-19 cases and deaths. 

As well as shortening life expectancy, health inequalities can damage quality of life. Those living in the most deprived areas spend nearly a third of their lives in poor health, compared to only about a sixth for those in the least deprived areas.  

The IHA, launched at the end of October 2020, is made up of 150 not for profit organisations brought together by the Royal College of Physicians (RCP). One of its first actions was to contact MPs asking them to write to their local NHS Trust(s) to see what action they are taking on health inequalities. 

The pandemic has exposed and exacerbated deep-rooted health inequalities, with COVID-19 having a disproportionate impact on different communities, and NHS England now requires that all NHS organisations must have appointed ‘a named executive board member responsible for tackling inequalities’. 

The RCP has written to the Prime Minister on behalf of the IHA, acknowledging that the government has been focused on responding to the pandemic but pointing out that COVID-19 has exposed how health inequalities can have an impact not just over a lifetime, but a matter of weeks. It continues to hit those already most disadvantaged in our society. 

The IHA wants local MPs to back its call for a cross-government strategy. Many of their constituents would support this - polling conducted on behalf of the RCP** found that 81% of the public agrees there should be a UK government strategy to reduce health inequalities. 

RCP president Professor Andrew Goddard said: “Let something good come out of this awful pandemic – let it be the moment when we said that enough was enough and took the steps necessary to tackle health inequalities, to end the unforgiveable situation by which people in one place live longer than those in another or spend more of their lives in poor health. 

“We need a cross-government strategy because health inequalities often arise from factors outside of individuals’ control, such as not having enough money to eat healthily or to be able to find or afford better housing.”