Health: A Communal Responsibility for Improved Health ; `Those Who Live in the Most Deprived Areas Have Been Least Able to Benefit from Social Gains'
Donaldson, Sir Liam, The Independent (London, England)
INEQUALITIES IN the health status of people living in different parts of our country is a deep-seated problem which has been observed since systematic records have been kept over the past hundred years.
Throughout the 20th Century, parts of northern England have shown consistently higher mortality rates than other parts of the country. In some parts of the North-east and North-west of England in 1996- 1998, communities had death rates similar to those 50 years earlier. It is a continuing challenge and source of motivation to all those working in the field of public health, that while this country has seen increased prosperity and overall reductions in mortality rates over the last 20 years, the gap in health between north and south, and those at the top and bottom of the social scale has widened.
A large part of the differences in health that we have observed is at least as much due to social, economic and environmental factors, as it is to individual behavioural choices.
Put simply, those who live in the most deprived areas have been least able to benefit from the gains that have come from wider social and environmental improvements, least likely to adopt healthier lifestyles, and least able to obtain access to services. For these reasons the action that is needed to tackle health inequalities requires commitment from across government departments, and not just through the NHS.
This requirement for a broad-based response is clearly reflected in the widely acclaimed Independent Inquiry into Inequalities in Health, chaired by one of my predecessors, Sir Donald Acheson, and published in 1998. This comprehensive analysis of the causes, effects and strategies to tackle health inequalities has fuelled a growing awareness of, and renewed interest in, health inequalities. …