Scotland and UK co-operation needed to end health disparities – Brown

A new report by the former prime minister’s Our Scottish Future think tank has highlighted the extent of poverty-related health inequalities.

18 January 2023

Former prime minister Gordon Brown has warned the NHS will “not be able to cope” with increasing demand unless significant health inequalities are closed.

A new report by Mr Brown’s Our Scottish Future think tank has urged Scottish ministers to work with their Westminster counterparts to eradicate poverty-related health inequalities.

The poorest Scots are 72% more likely to end up in hospital emergency beds than their affluent peers, according to the Closing The Gap survey written by researcher Andrew Mooney.

They are 66% more likely to attend A&E and, on average, spend 22% longer in hospital than the wealthiest Scots.

The report analyses Public Health Scotland figures and blames the disparity on the lack of access to early healthcare intervention in areas of deprivation and the more complex health needs faced by poorer communities.

Scene of deprivation
Experts say where a child is born can be one of the ‘great predictors’ of their life chances (Alamy/PA)

Mr Mooney’s report outlines a series of recommendations to both of Scotland’s governments, including a UK-wide health insights unit led by the four chief medical officers, passing power to councils to create a “preventative health subsidy” to boost spending in poorer areas, and country-wide consultation on the future of social security.

The former prime minister is set to hold an event with the UK’s leading health inequalities researcher, Sir Michael Marmot, in Kirkcaldy, Fife.

The experts claim a joint UK-Scotland approach to tackling health inequalities would effectively solve the NHS crisis, with the report suggesting 1,510 emergency beds would be freed up every day as a result.

In the report’s foreword, Mr Brown said: “Scotland’s NHS will be unable to cope – and waiting lists will continue to be at record levels – unless we dramatically reduce the inequalities in Scotland that are causing poorer health among those on low incomes and higher demand for accident and emergency services, hospital beds and prescriptions.

“The NHS urgently needs more investment and fair remuneration for its hard-working nurses, ambulance workers and staff.

Hospital ward
Gordon Brown called for ‘fair remuneration’ for NHS staff (PA)

“This needs to be matched with a strategy to end health inequalities which disfigure our country and cut short too many lives.

“This strategy should be based on a co-operative approach, with Scotland working hand-in-hand with the rest of the UK.”

Mr Mooney said: “Today in Scotland, one of the great predictors to the life chance of a newborn child is where they were born.

“Our current crises, including cost of living, are already showing signs of adversely affecting health.

“Through co-operation, pooling our resources, and working together across the United Kingdom, we can address these challenges and ensure everyone benefits.”

In response, a Scottish Government spokesperson said: “We are determined to increase healthy life expectancy and reduce health inequalities, and we are already taking decisive action to do so.

“That includes the delivery of a range of benefits unavailable anywhere else in the UK, such as the Scottish Child Payment which we increased to £25 per eligible child per week in November – an increase of 150% within eight months. This benefit, only available in Scotland, also opened to eligible under-16s from that date.

“Despite the huge pressures on Scotland’s NHS, exacerbated by the pandemic, we are taking a range of actions to reduce health inequalities. That includes the National Cancer Plan and our Heart Disease Action Plan, which places an emphasis on the equitable provision of care for people with heart disease in Scotland.

“We have also ensured that NHS Scotland’s budget and staffing levels remain at historically high levels – and while we will always work with the UK Government when we believe it is in the best interests of the people of Scotland, health and social care are entirely devolved policy areas and will remain so.”

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