More Effort Needed to Close Growing Gap in Life Expectancy

The House of Commons Public Accounts Committee (PAC) has published a scathing report on inequalities in health between the richest and poorest people in the UK and the last Government’s failure to narrow the gap in life expectancy between them. 

Far from narrowing, the gap in life expectancy has actually increased in recent years the report makes clear.

In 1997, the Government put tackling health inequalities at the heart of its health agenda and subsequently published a number of policy documents and related targets.  In 2004 the Government set the Department of Health the target of reducing the gap in life expectancy between 70 ‘spearhead’ local authorities with high deprivation and the population as a whole by 10 per cent by 2010.

Not only has the Department failed to meet the target, it has been exceptionally slow to tackle health inequalities, the PAC report concludes.  It took the Department till 2006, 9 years after it announced the importance of tackling health inequalities, to establish it as an NHS priority.  Even though it was known in 1997 that certain key interventions such as getting individuals at risk to stop smoking, prescribing drugs to reduce to control blood pressure and to lower cholesterol levels had the most impact on the health of those living in deprived areas, it took the Department till 2007 to produce evidence about how such treatments could be delivered cost-effectively.

The report notes that GPs are crucial to improving the health of people in the most deprived areas.  However, in many areas of these areas the number of GPs per head of population is well below the number in affluent areas.  The Committee says that the Department missed an opportunity to use the revised GP contract to ensure more doctors do work in deprived areas, and criticises it for not focusing enough attention on implementing the key interventions that would make a difference.  

 The Committee’s recommendations include:

  •  The Department and NHS Commissioning board should identify and implement the action needed to stimulate wider adoption of the key treatments that could reduce health inequalities, so that GPs in all areas comply with accepted good practice.
  •  The Department should identify what measures – including financial incentives – are needed to drive up the number of GPs working in areas with the greatest health needs and should implement a suitable action plan within a defined timeframe for doing so.
  •  GPs’ payments should be linked to their success in improving the health of the neediest people in their practices.

 Read TAEN’s press release.


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