MAGGIE PAGANO: Our newly enobled health advisers are Covid celebs – why don’t they use their status to persuade us to get fitter and eat better?
- Covid has ripped through the United Kingdom’s most deprived parts
- Those in the North had a 17 per cent higher mortality rate due to the virus
- Estimated that increased mortality in the North will cost economy up to £7.3bn
- Impact on mental health from longer lockdowns will be at least another £5bn
One of the most shocking consequences of the pandemic is the brutal way in which Covid has ripped through the United Kingdom’s most deprived parts.
Those in the North had a 17 per cent higher mortality rate due to the virus – and 14 per cent higher from other death causes – than elsewhere in England. The North’s care home mortality rate from Covid was 26 per cent higher while 10 per cent more hospital beds had Covid patients.
It is estimated that the increased mortality in the North will cost the economy up to £7.3billion in lost productivity while the impact on mental health from the longer lockdowns will be at least another £5billion.
Inequality: The North-South health gap has barely changed over 25 years but has been exacerbated by the pandemic
Yet the Northern Health Science Alliance (NHSA) says about half of the higher mortality from Covid – and two-thirds of the increased all-cause mortality – stems from preventable higher deprivation, and the far worse pre-pandemic health of the region.
This North-South health gap has barely changed over 25 years but has been exacerbated by the pandemic. Professor Clare Bambra, a public health expert at Newcastle University, writes in her book, The Unequal Pandemic, that Covid is a syndemic of disease and inequality that has killed – and been experienced – unequally.
Yet we have long known about the impact such inequalities have on health across the country. Londoners in Canning Town at one end of the Jubilee tube line live, on average, seven years less than those eight stops along the line in Westminster.
Life expectancy in Cathcart is 15 years longer than in the Possilpark and Ruchill districts in Glasgow – Europe’s sharpest health divide. Endless public campaigns have tried to stop smoking, improve nutrition and encourage people to exercise more but these attempts – particularly on obesity – have had only limited effect.
The Brits are still the fattest in Europe – 26.9 per cent of us are obese and another third overweight. At the present rate, half of us will be obese by 2050.
Consider the billions spent on treating the associated illnesses. The NHS spends about £10billion a year on diabetes – nearly a tenth of the annual budget – an illness which can be treated with healthier diets. It’s a no-brainer that a programme to improve the well-being of those in the most deprived areas would bring great economic benefits.
Of course, such a policy should be carried out alongside other obvious reforms such as improved transport, better housing and more innovative schemes such as enter prise zones to attract investment. But such advances would reap great rewards politically and economically since many of these poorer areas lie behind the Red Wall, which as the polls show, are looking more precarious for the Government. But it is doable.
The NHSA has shown that tackling illhealth across the North could add £13.2billion to the economy. Even relatively small decreases in the rates of ill health and mortality could reduce the gap in GVA – gross value added – per head between the North and the rest of England by 10 per cent.
Our newly ennobled health advisers – Whitty, Van-Tam, Vallance, Harries et al – have become Covid celebs. Why don’t they use their status to persuade us to get fitter and eat better?
They should also speak to Michael Gove, whose white paper on ‘levelling up’ is due this month, about taking radical action at local level to help communities encourage their overall well-being.
Why don’t GPs turn surgeries into mini-health centres, employing nutritionists and fitness instructors? Crisis can bring great opportunities if we use our imagination.