What’s happened to the UK’s health?

Health, as the work of Professor Sir Michael Marmot most recently eloquently demonstrated, is in no small part a function of where and to whom you were born. The most deprived communities, where jobs are low-paid if not scarce and those who make it to university are a talking point rather than the norm, are also those where cancer rates, heart disease and strokes are high. One government after another has been uncomfortably aware of this and made promises to do something about it. It has always defeated them.

But while the health inequality gap persists, the UK’s health overall has been getting better. Comprehensive childhood immunisation programmes have virtually wiped out some diseases. Smoking has become the number one public health target, and although we still struggle to get certain groups – young women and people in those deprived areas particularly – to quit, the public smoking ban, high taxes and campaigns have had an impact that must show up in lower rates of lung and other cancers and reduced heart disease. Diagnosis and treatment of cancer has improved – even if we still trail much of Europe in death rates. The politicians (and the drug companies) argue that is because we don’t buy the newest, most expensive cancer drugs. The cancer tsar, Professor Mike Richards, will tell you it is because we are slow to diagnose the disease, especially in those deprived areas (again) where men and women do not stride into the GP’s surgery demanding attention.

In recent years, the health gap has become visible, manifesting itself in obesity, which is often most rife among those with less money and less education, who are more likely to buy affordable and filling pie and chips than a smoked salmon bagel. Obesity puts people at risk of heart disease, diabetes and cancer – the big killers of our age.

To make a momentous improvement in the health of the nation today, those social inequalities have to be addressed. Yes – we are all living longer but, to misquote George Orwell, one of our greatest critics of social inequality, some of us are living longer than others.

source: guardian.co.uk

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