Government urged to take bolder action to tackle growing health inequalities

As Rishi Sunak plans to charge NHS patients £10 for ‘no-shows’, reports show a growing disparity in access to healthcare and growing health inequality across the UK.

In another policy aimed at courting Tory members, the former chancellor has announced plans fine people for missing appointments with their GP in a bid to ‘crack down on those who abuse the NHS’.

Most patients who miss GP appointments are among the poorest, have complex needs and chaotic lifestyles, and come from minority backgrounds, a exam from the British Journal of General Practice shows.

Sunak’s plans, which would likely have the biggest impact on the poorest and most vulnerable, follow a number of reports that point to rising health inequalities in Britain.

In the last three months of 2021, the UK has seen a 39% increase in the number of patients opting for self-funded treatment, while 6 in 7 patients say they cannot afford private healthcare. Under current conditions, health inequalities in Britain are set to increase significantly.

These were the findings of research conducted by, which has collated evidence from recent reports on the reality of UK health outcomes.

Research confirms that the Covid-19 pandemic has exacerbated the problem, with a huge backlog of cases in the NHS limiting access to healthcare.

Long waiting times push people to pay for treatment

Analysis by the BBC Private Healthcare Information Network (PHIN) data released in July found that long NHS waiting times appeared to be pushing people to pay thousands of pounds for private treatment.

According to the analysis, in the last three months of 2021 there were 69,000 self-funded treatments in the UK, a 39% increase on the same period before the pandemic. Last year, the number of people paying for private care exceeded 250,000.

The PHIN figures do not include patients with private health insurance and are instead limited to those who fund treatment themselves. Common operations such as knee and hip replacements can cost up to £15,000, and the BBC has found patients crowdfunding or using loans to pay for private treatment.

BBC analysis follows research conducted by Healthwatchan independent patient watchdog committed to ensuring that NHS leaders and other decision-makers listen to patient feedback and improve standards of care.

Going private is not an option for many

The Healthwatch study involved a public survey of private health care. It found that 22% of respondents had paid for private treatment or were considering doing so. However, for two-thirds of respondents, with the rising cost of living, going private is not an option.

More than 6.6 million people are currently on waiting lists for hospital treatment in England. Ministers warn it could be 2024 before the numbers start to drop.

Healthwatch says more needs to be done to support people while they wait and prioritize those most in need.

Louise Ansari, National Director of Healthwatch, commented on the research findings and the growing health inequalities in the UK.

“We know that some people who would have previously taken an NHS route have already had private treatment during the pandemic, and almost one in seven people on waiting lists say they can afford to go private and consider it. Yet for two-thirds of people, going private is simply not an option, and with the growing cost of living crisis, the gap between these groups will only grow.

“Our evidence also shows that people on the lowest incomes are most likely to wait the longest for NHS treatment and will have a more negative waiting experience. This, in turn, has a more serious impact on their physical health, mental health, and ability to work and care for loved ones.

“Tackling the NHS backlog is a huge challenge, but policymakers must find a way to do so without exacerbating health inequalities, the scale of which has been laid bare by the pandemic,” continued Ansari.

A “two-tier” system

Jonathon Holmes, of the King’s Fund health think tank, called the record number of people on waiting lists “worrying”.

“The risk is that we end up with a two-tier system where some people have to wait too long to get care and others feel they have to go bankrupt to get the care they need,” he said. declared.

Alzheimer’s Research UK is also calling on the government to take bolder action to tackle health inequalities in dementia risk.

Research presented Aug. 2 at the 2022 Alzheimer’s Association International Conference (AAIC) in San Diego links socioeconomic deprivation, including persistent low wages and neighborhood disadvantage, to reduced performance cognitive impairment, accelerate memory decline and increase the risk of dementia.

In response to the research, Dr Susan Mitchell, policy manager at Alzheimer’s Research UK, said:

“Tackling health inequities is a key part of the dementia challenge. These findings add to the growing body of evidence that the environment in which people live and work affects their risk of dementia, which the government plays a key role in helping to shape.

“We urge the government to make dementia prevention a key priority in its aim to improve healthcare across the country, and hope that the upcoming health disparities white paper will lay the groundwork for a fairer and healthier nation.”

Gabrielle Pickard-Whitehead is editor of Left Foot Forward

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