Labour call for Covid-19 health inequalities strategy

he Labour Party is calling for a Covid-19 health inequalities strategy now to protect deprived and BAME communities and tackle the hidden health effects of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Jonathan Ashworth, Labour’s Shadow Health and Social Care Secretary, is proposing to ministers a three point Covid-19 health inequalities plan.

Labour’s call follows the Office for National Statistics (ONS) data today which show that black people are more than four times more likely to die from Covid-19 than white people. Bangladeshi and Pakistani males were 1.8 times more likely to die from Covid-19 than white males, females from those ethnic groups were 1.6 times more likely to die from the virus than their white counterparts.

ONS data from last week also showed that more deprived areas experience Covid-19 mortality rates more than double those in less deprived areas.

There have been many warnings from the BMA and charities that many people are also not receiving the treatment they need for non Covid-19 care.

  • Cancer pathways have been hit, with urgent two week wait referrals dropping by 75 per cent.  Around 200,000 people per week are no longer being screened for bowel, breast and cervical cancer, meaning a significant number of early cancers could be going undetected.
  • Labour’s analysis shows the number of people seen in Accident and Emergency with a suspected heart attack dropped by 50 per cent between mid-March and the end of March – a reduction of around 1000 people per week.
  • There was a 38 per cent drop in percutaneous coronary intervention (PCI) procedures – a life changing procedure to restore blood flow to the heart after a heart attack – in 6 cardiac centres in London in second half of March compared to the same time last year.
  • A team of 24 experts published a paper in the Lancet stating that Coronavirus will have a profound social, psychological and biological impact on the public long after lockdown ends.

Labour is warning this growing burden of unmet clinical need risks widening health inequalities generating ‘hidden’ morbidity and mortality associated with non Covid-19 conditions.

Cancer, heart attack, stroke, respiratory conditions all have higher death rates at every age in more deprived areas. Poorer areas also suffer from higher rates of mental health problems and deaths from suicide.

Labour is proposing to government a Covid-19 inequalities strategy:

  1. In addition to regular testing of healthcare workers and care home residents, community testing and contact tracing should be rolled out in the most deprived areas and in areas with a higher proportion of BAME residents as a priority.
  2. As the NHS resumes ‘normal’ activity alongside continuing to treat Covid patients, resources should be allocated to ensure inequalities in non-Covid health outcomes do not worsen as a consequence of the pressures on an already stretched health service.
  3. Set up a Covid-19 health inequalities commission to ensure the social and economic effects of lockdown do not worsen existing health inequalities with a view to reporting on trends in healthy living years and life expectancy as a result of Covid-19.

Jonathan Ashworth MP, Labour’s Shadow Health and Social Care Secretary, said:

“Coronavirus thrives on inequality. And inequality in health is the worst inequality of all leading to people dying sooner because of poverty.

“While this virus is a deadly risk for everyone, we can’t ignore its disproportionate impact in poorer and BAME communities.

“Testing, tracing and isolation is crucial infrastructure that’s needed to take on Covid-19. But testing is falling and tracing must draw upon the expertise in local public health and primary care services to full tackle the deep rooted equalities Covid-19 exploits.

“Today ministers must act. As well as increasing testing further to all health care workers, community testing and tracing should be rolled out in areas of deprivation, where the health impact is greatest, as a priority

“But we also need a plan to tackle the growing burden of unmet clinical need as a consequence of the extra pressures Covid-19 has placed upon the health system. We know that cancer, heart attack, stroke and respiratory conditions all have higher death rates in more deprived areas so it is crucial ministers outline a plan for how resources will be allocated according to need to mitigate these worsening non-Covid health outcomes amongst poorer communities.

“After ten years of austerity life expectancy has stalled and even gone backwards for the poorest 20 per cent of women. Without bold and urgent action, Covid-19 will widen health inequalities. It’s a ticking time bomb – ministers must act now.”

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