MAGGIE PAGANO: Our newly appointed health advisers are Covid celebrities – why don’t they use their status to persuade us to get fitter and eat better?
- Covid has torn apart UK’s most disadvantaged areas
- Those in the North had a 17% higher death rate from the virus
- Increased deaths in the North are estimated to cost the economy up to Â£ 7.3bn
- The mental health impact of longer lockdowns will be at least an additional Â£ 5bn
One of the most shocking consequences of the pandemic is the brutal way in which Covid has torn apart the UK’s most deprived areas.
Those in the North had a 17% higher death rate from the virus – and 14% higher from other causes of death – than elsewhere in England. The northern nursing home death rate from Covid was 26% higher while an additional 10% of hospital beds had Covid patients.
It is estimated that the increase in mortality in the North will cost the economy up to Â£ 7.3 billion in lost productivity, while the mental health impact of longer lockdowns will be at least An additional Â£ 5 billion.
Inequalities: The North-South health gap has barely changed in 25 years but has been exacerbated by the pandemic
Still, the Northern Health Science Alliance (NHSA) says about half of the higher mortality from Covid – and two-thirds of the increase in all-cause mortality – stems from preventable higher deprivation and the region’s much worse pre-pandemic health.
This North-South health gap has barely changed for 25 years but has been exacerbated by the pandemic. Professor Clare Bambra, a public health expert at Newcastle University, writes in her book, The Unequal Pandemic, that Covid is a syndrome of disease and inequality that has killed – and has been experienced – unevenly.
Yet we have long known about the impact of such inequalities on health across the country. Londoners in Canning Town at one end of the Jubilee tube line live, on average, seven years less than those eight stops along the line in Westminster.
Life expectancy in Cathcart is 15 years longer than in the Possilpark and Ruchill districts of Glasgow – the biggest health divide in Europe. Endless public campaigns have tried to quit smoking, improve nutrition and encourage people to exercise more, but these attempts – especially on obesity – have only had one effect. limit.
The British are still the fattest in Europe – 26.9% of us are obese and another third are overweight. At the current rate, half of us will be obese by 2050.
Consider the billions spent on treating associated illnesses. The NHS spends around Â£ 10 billion a year on diabetes – almost a tenth of the annual budget – a disease that can be treated with healthier eating. It is obvious that a program aimed at improving the well-being of people in the most disadvantaged areas would bring great economic benefits.
Of course, such a policy should be carried out alongside other obvious reforms such as improved transport, better housing and more innovative programs such as entry zones to attract investment. But such advances would bring great rewards politically and economically since many of these poorer areas lie behind the red wall, which polls show looks more precarious for the government. But it is doable.
The NHSA has shown that tackling health problems in the North could add Â£ 13.2 billion to the economy. Even relatively small reductions in ill health and death rates could reduce the GVA – gross value added – per capita gap between the North and the rest of England by 10%.
Our newly ennobled health advisers – Whitty, Van-Tam, Vallance, Harries et al – have become Covid celebrities. Why don’t they use their status to persuade us to be fitter and eat better?
They are also expected to speak to Michael Gove, whose ‘leveling up’ white paper is due this month, on taking radical action at the local level to help communities promote their overall well-being.
Why don’t GPs turn surgeries into mini health centers, employing nutritionists and fitness instructors? The crisis can bring great opportunities if we use our imaginations.