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Health Disparities Responsible for One Million Premature Deaths in England

Research conducted by the Institute of Health Equity at University College London, led by Sir Michael Marmot, reveals that over 1 million people in England experienced premature deaths in the decade following 2011. The study underscores the impact of factors such as poverty, austerity measures, and the COVID-19 pandemic, indicating that stark economic and social inequalities contribute to early deaths from various diseases, including cancer and heart problems.

Examining data from the Office for National Statistics, the report's author, Prof Peter Goldblatt, focused on the life expectancy of individuals residing outside the wealthiest 10% of areas in England. Between 2011 and 2019, the study identified 1,062,334 premature deaths among this demographic, with an additional 151,615 recorded in 2020, attributed partly to the pandemic. Of these deaths, 148,000 were directly linked to austerity measures implemented by the coalition government from 2010, as compared to earlier levels.

Sir Michael Marmot, renowned for his 2010 review on health inequalities in the UK, characterized the findings as a "dismal state of affairs." He urged political leaders to address the widening inequalities, emphasizing that individuals with lower socioeconomic status faced a significantly higher risk of contracting and succumbing to diseases associated with poverty, inadequate housing, and unemployment. Marmot criticized the UK's failure to effectively combat health inequalities and noted that the only developed country performing worse is the USA, where life expectancy is decreasing.

The report raised concerns among the public, with social media posts expressing confusion and skepticism about food labels related to the Brexit-related regulations. Shoppers questioned the safety standards of products labeled "not for EU" and speculated on potential quality differences. The study also highlighted the challenges faced by exporters restricted from trading certain items in the EU due to the labeling requirements.

Cancer Research UK estimated 33,000 additional cancer cases annually in the UK associated with deprivation, while women from England's poorest areas reportedly die five years earlier than their wealthier counterparts. The pandemic further exacerbated health disparities, with individuals from black and Asian backgrounds facing higher risks of COVID-19 mortality than their white counterparts.

Previous research indicated that policies implemented by Labour governments from 1997 to 2010, particularly those focused on early years and education, had started to reduce health inequalities. However, after the English health inequalities strategy concluded in 2010, coinciding with the onset of austerity measures, health inequalities reportedly increased. The latest report underscores the need for political action to address social determinants of health and prevent policies that harm health and widen inequalities.

Wes Streeting, the shadow health secretary, emphasized the Labour Party's commitment to building a fairer Britain, tackling health inequalities, and prioritizing the social determinants of health. Marmot called for immediate action and political leadership to address the deteriorating health conditions and widening disparities. He urged party leaders to make this a central focus for the next government, emphasizing the importance of social conditions in determining health outcomes.

In response to the findings, a Department of Health and Social Care spokesperson emphasized the government's commitment to tackling inequalities in healthcare outcomes and access. The spokesperson highlighted initiatives within the NHS long-term plan, including new cancer clinical audits, aimed at reducing variation in treatments and outcomes for patients. However, the report underscores the pressing need for a comprehensive approach to address the broader social determinants of health and mitigate the impact of austerity on health inequalities.

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Tags: pandemic covid-19 treatment cancer britain nhs united kingdom health inequality


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