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It is a pleasure to follow James Daly and to hear his suggestions on how to reduce health inequalities.
Professor Marmot’s recent review on health inequalities since 2010 has highlighted how the Government’s decade of austerity has taken its toll on aspects of people’s lives. In particular, the report highlights: rising child poverty; the closure of children’s centres; declines in education funding; zero-hours contracts; increasing insecurity in work; the housing crisis; a rise in homelessness; an increase in the number of beggars on the street; people not having enough money to lead a healthy lifestyle; and more and more people turning to food banks. If those outcomes are not bad enough, things are even worse for our minority ethnic population, and that area is my focus in this speech.
Ethnicity has not been a consistent focus of health inequalities policy; very few policies have been targeted at minority groups. Two factors affecting the action—or the lack of it—on ethnic health inequalities are the availability of data on ethnicity and the legal obligations on racial equality. For example, data on ethnicity is not collected when a death is registered, so it is not possible to calculate life expectancy estimates. Having that data on ethnic groups in our health statistics would be an important aid to researchers, who would then be able to investigate differences in health. Education for our health professionals is also most important if we want to address health inequalities and to enable those professionals to feel that practical steps can be taken to help to reduce the inequalities. For example, sickle cell disorder affects some of my diverse community in Lewisham East, but not enough research has been done on it, and not enough time has been spent on evaluating the preventive measures and how to reduce people’s risk of having a sickle cell crisis. Clearly much more needs to be done to understand the disorder and how it disproportionately affects a section of our diverse population in the UK.
Many health professionals would agree that there is a desperate requirement to increase training on sickle cell disorder, as well as diversity training in the General Medical Council, the General Pharmaceutical Council and the Nursing & Midwifery Council, in order to address these needs. The Marmot review makes one thing clear: the effects of austerity are reducing quality of life and, in some cases, they are taking life.