The most deprived areas of England and Wales lost nearly twice as many ‘years of life’ to Covid than the most affluent areas, suggesting the impact the pandemic on poorer areas is ‘more pronounced’ than first thought, research has found.
While deaths from Covid have long been recognised as unevenly distributed by deprivation, researchers have now suggested that the ‘full scale of inequalities may have been underestimated to date’.
New evidence, published in PLOS Medicine (15 February), found that in the first 42 weeks of the pandemic 1,645 years of life were lost per 100,000 of the population in the poorest areas of England and Wales.
This is compared to 916 years of life lost (YLL) per 100,000 people in the least deprived areas: almost half as many.
Led by the University of Manchester, the researchers said that the true scale of the problem may have been underestimated because analysing excess deaths alone does not account for the differences the ages at which people die in different social groups.
As a measurement, YLL lost takes into account both the number of deaths and the age at which they occur.
When broken down by region, areas in the North West of England lost three times as many years of life (1,500 YLL per 100,000 people) than the South West (490 YYL) between March and December 2020.
The area with the second worst rate was the North East (1,519), followed by the West Midlands (1,475).
Boost primary care support in poorer areas
Increased support for primary care services in those more deprived areas would be an effective means for mitigating the effects of Covid-19, the researchers suggested.
They said that their findings fall in line with those recommendations previously made by the BMA, including prioritising vaccination and providing ‘targeted financial and social support’.
The team flagged that many of those in the most deprived areas were ‘already compromised’ in financially and health-wise by austerity measures made during the 2010s.
They said that these ‘successive economic shocks’ constrained policymakers, but that ‘robust policy is required’ to eliminate these health inequalities.
Such policies should include ‘substantial’ investment in future pandemic preparedness and to support ‘chronically stretched health services’.
This should be accompanied by more effective public health actions to address ‘the full range’ of socioeconomic determinants of ill health.
Previous studies have indicated that adults in the poorest areas of England were more than three times likely to be hesitant over a Covid vaccine than those in the wealthiest areas.
Elsewhere, patients living in the most deprived areas benefit from ‘significantly fewer’ FTE GPs per 10,000 patients than their wealthier counterparts.