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NHS has a role in tackling poverty to improve health, think tank finds

NHS has a role in tackling poverty to improve health, think tank finds
By Beth Gault
18 March 2024

Those living in poverty are more likely to face barriers to accessing timely treatment and access emergency treatment instead, according to analysis from think tank The King’s Fund.

The research, Illustrating the relationship between poverty and NHS services, found that 30% of people living in the most deprived areas of the country have used 999, 111, A&E or a walk-in centre because they have been unable to access a GP appointment, compared to 10% of those in the least deprived areas.

It also found that while the prevalence of some health conditions is lower in the most deprived areas, that deaths from those conditions in the same areas are higher. For example, dementia is 1.4 times less common in deprived areas, but the mortality rate is 1.6 times greater. Similarly, those in poverty are 1.3 times less likely to have atrial fibrillation than those in the least deprived areas, but deaths from the condition are 1.6 times higher.

The report called for increased awareness of poverty in patients among staff to help tackle the problem.

It said: ‘Despite the scale and complexity of the problem, the NHS can make a difference, through raising awareness of poverty in patients among staff, taking action to meet the needs of those experiencing poverty and using its voice to advocate for tackling poverty.’

However, senior analyst at The King’s Fund and lead author of the analysis, Saoirse Mallorie, said the NHS alone cannot solve the problem.

She said: ‘Our analysis highlights that not only do people living in poverty have shorter lives, they also spend a higher proportion of their lives with health problems. To improve the nation’s health and use NHS resources in the best way, tackling poverty must be as much of a priority as bringing down waiting lists.

‘While the NHS can do more to treat the symptoms of people experiencing poverty, it cannot alone address the root causes. Bolder action from government, economic and civic society is needed to lift millions of people out of poverty and break this vicious cycle of poverty and its impact on poor health.’

Sarah Woolnough, chief executive of The King’s Fund, added: ‘One of the founding principles of the NHS is that it is free at the point of need, yet our analysis shows the cruel irony that many people living in poverty find it harder than others to access the timely care that could help them better manage their health conditions and prevent future illness.

‘While the NHS can be a force in addressing poverty, as we head towards a general election, widening health inequalities and deepening deprivation must be tackled head on by government and policy-makers.’

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