05 April

Healthcare inequalities in UK Primary Care

Taking a look at the unequal distribution of healthcare services in the UK

By Patrick Flowers 

Healthcare inequalities refer to the unequal distribution of healthcare services and resources among different groups of people, and have a much deeper impact on UK Primary Care than we may initially realise.

These inequalities can be based on various factors such as race, ethnicity, gender, socioeconomic status, and geographic location. As a result, some individuals may have greater access to high-quality healthcare, while others may face barriers that prevent them from receiving the care they need.

The postcode lottery

One major contributor to healthcare inequalities is the lack of access to healthcare for certain populations. This can be due to a variety of reasons, such as financial barriers, and geographic location. For example, individuals living in rural areas may have limited access to healthcare facilities and providers due to their distance from their GP Practice. Further to this, with the wider introduction of video consulting too, patients without laptops or smartphones are further disadvantaged also.

These inequalities are particularly prevalent when looking at life expectancy. In the UK, a 60-year-old woman in the poorest areas of England has a level of ‘diagnosed illness’ equivalent to that of a 76-year-old woman in the wealthiest areas, according to new research by the Health Foundation. While a 60-year-old man in the poorest areas of England will on average have a level of diagnosed illness equivalent to that of a 70- year-old man in the wealthiest areas.

Another factor contributing to healthcare inequalities is the presence of systemic biases and discrimination within the healthcare system. These biases can manifest in various ways, such as through the unequal distribution of healthcare resources and funding (being weighted towards affluent areas, for example), or through the unequal treatment of patients based on their race, ethnicity, or other characteristics. These biases can lead to unequal health outcomes for different groups of people, with some groups experiencing poorer health outcomes than others.

How do we address the inequalities?

The NHS is aiming to address Healthcare inequalities with five key points:

  • Restoring NHS services inclusively
  • Mitigating against digital exclusion
  • Ensuring datasets are complete and timely
  • Accelerating preventative programmes
  • Strengthening leadership and accountability.

Do these points go far enough? What else could be done?

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