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Tackling inequalities exposed by Covid-19 must be at ‘forefront’ of health and care reorganisation, says NHS body

by Awil Mohamoud
29 July 2020

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Addressing social and healthcare inequalities must be at ‘the forefront’ of future changes to the health and care system, the NHS Confederation has said, after a report found the Covid-19 mortality rate in poorer areas is still more than double that of the most affluent.

Figures published by the Office for National Statistics (ONS) on Friday (24 July) showed the most deprived areas in England faced 139.6 Covid-19 related deaths per 100,000 people between March and June, compared to 63.4 for more affluent areas. 

London boroughs accounted for nine out of 10 local authorities facing the highest Covid-19 mortality rates in the country, with Brent at the top of the list with 216.6 deaths per 100,000 people, followed by Newham (201.6 deaths) and Haringey (185.1 deaths). 

Outside London, Middlesbrough had 178 deaths per 100,000, making it seventh highest in the country, while Salford was number 15 on the list, recording 166.2 deaths.

An inside view: Why are people from poor inner-city areas far more likely to die from coronavirus?

These areas are among the most deprived in the country, according to their score on the Index of Multiple Deprivation (IMD), which measures factors such as income, employment, health, education, crime, the living environment and access to housing in each area. 

Keep inequalities at forefront of reset 

Responding to the ONS data, Dr Layla McCay, a director at the NHS Confederation, said: ‘These figures lay bare the true scale of the ravages of COVID-19 in areas with the highest levels of deprivation, casting a harsh spotlight on some of the ways the virus has worsened health inequalities and widened societal divisions.

‘As we look to reset the NHS, we must keep these inequalities at the forefront of decision makers’ minds, and we urge the Government to invest in deprived communities. We will also work with health and care leaders to help rebuild local communities together.’

She added that the figures ‘shines a light’ on the possible contributing factor of the disproportionate effect Covid-19 has had on people in BAME communities, as some of the worst hit areas have been some of the most diverse in England.

In June, a Public Health England report confirmed some ethinic minority groups are up to twice as likely to die from coronavirus compared to their white counterparts, after taking account of outside factors, including age and deprivation levels.

Dr McCay added: ‘More research is clearly needed. It is absolutely imperative that we use the data, as well as the experience and leadership of our communities, to drive lasting change and make sure this issue cannot be ignored.’  

Overall decline in Covid-19 mortality rate

Sarah Caul, head of mortality analysis at the ONS, said all English regions saw a ‘large decrease’ in the proportion of Covid-19 deaths in June, following the peak of the pandemic in April.  

She said: ‘London experienced the largest decrease over the period from having more than one in two deaths in April, which involved Covid-19, to only about one in 20 deaths in June.

‘The South West region continued to have the lowest proportion of Covid-19 deaths in June, with about one in 30 deaths involving the coronavirus, while the North West had the highest, where one in eight deaths were Covid-19 related.’

Despite a marked fall in the Covid-19 death rate, the figures continue to highlight disparities made evident during the height of the pandemic