Blog: Health Disparities White Paper: Why we need to prioritise prevention

With the much-needed white paper on health disparities now looking very likely to be delayed due to uncertainty over who the next prime minister will be, Liverpool’s Cabinet Member for Social Care and Health, Cllr Frazer Lake tells us about his hopes for the report and why urgent action and investment is needed to close the gap in health outcomes between the country’s most and least deprived areas.

“It’s well documented that preventable risk factors like smoking, high-risk drinking and obesity are more prevalent in the most deprived areas – and it’s sadly no real surprise that these health issues have worsened during the pandemic.

Local authorities have experienced sustained cuts, which has impacted on our ability to provide, deliver, and upscale interventions such as stop smoking services and weight management programmes – despite them being among the most cost-effective options available to us.

If the Government is serious about tackling health inequalities (or disparities, as it is now being called nationally) it must commit to introducing bold population-level interventions which are less reliant on the individual, and more focused on society as a whole, as it’s clear that things like minimum unit pricing of alcohol in Scotland have led to successful and widespread change north of the border.

Last month we saw clear recommendations set out by Dr Javed Khan on how we can reduce the harm smoking creates within our communities, and the £17 billion annual cost to society (£2.4 billion which falls to the NHS.)

Key recommendations of the independent Khan Review were to urgently invest in a comprehensive Smokefree 2030 programme, raise the age of sale of tobacco by one year every year, and for the NHS to prioritise support and treatment across all of its services – so I urge the Government to commit to rolling these out.

I was also recently disappointed to see that the Government’s Food Strategy isn’t addressing a tax on sugar and salt, as this has real potential to make lasting impact, especially on the health of our children.

For the white paper to be successful, we need to see measures that addresses levelling up of both health and wealth – as many root causes of ill health can be tracked back to poverty and poor housing.

This is why I’m proud that Liverpool has once again implemented the landlord licensing scheme to drive up standards in private rented accommodation and is working towards Marmot Community Status with our Cheshire and Merseyside neighbours to reduce health inequalities through action on social determinants of health.

Statistically speaking if you’re from a deprived area you are more likely to have a shorter life and spend more time in poor health.

Risk factors such as smoking and obesity increase the instance of certain illnesses, such as cancer, type 2 diabetes and poor mental health, so I see the upcoming white paper as a real opportunity to invest in local health and care systems – enabling them to drive up improvements in health and wellbeing, allowing more people to live longer, healthier lives.

The old adage of “prevention is better than a cure” is definitely true.”

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