Frequently reported differences in health outcomes are generally ascribed to factors beyond the control of the health service, such as unhealthy lifestyles or poor living conditions. However, research has disclosed that there is a difference in the level of service received by poorer communities.
Though the NHS’s funding formula is designed to provide more money to the neediest areas, an FT article reported last week that – according to data analysed by the Nuffield Trust for the Financial Times – some poorer communities being “left behind” when accessing GP services.
Sarah Neville, Global Pharmaceuticals Editor, summarising the data, reports that rich and poor people in England receive different standards of care from the UK’s universal free health service.
Despite the higher burden of ill health in lower socio-economic groups, there are markedly fewer GPs per head in poorer areas of England than in richer areas
There was an average of 1,869 patients on GP lists for each doctor in the most affluent clinical commissioning groups, compared with 2,125 in the most deprived, according to Nuffield researchers. One in seven people in the poorest areas was unable to get a GP appointment, compared with one in 10 in the richest areas.
As GPs act as the crucial “gatekeeper” to other health services, a delay in seeing a doctor can lead to delays in securing other appropriate treatment. Emergency admissions were nearly 30% higher in the most deprived fifth of CCGs, compared with the least deprived fifth, which could point to delays in securing — or seeking — the right treatment. (See references to Sandwell here)
Nigel Edwards, chief executive of the Nuffield Trust, said that the new analysis showed there were “concerning discrepancies between the standards of care rich and poor receive from some NHS services”.
NHS England, “more medical treatment isn’t by itself the only answer”:
“ (T)he NHS long-term plan will be setting out new action to tackle inequalities including in access to primary care. But with the root cause of ill health lying in factors such as diet, smoking and exercise, income security, housing, air pollution and social connection, more medical treatment isn’t by itself the only answer.”
Ms Neville concludes that the findings raise questions about how well the 70-year-old National Health Service is meeting its founding principles of equity. They increase pressure on the NHS to outline plans to reduce health inequalities when it publishes its long-awaited spending plan next month.