Our manifesto to improve health inequalities in Norfolk and Waveney
- Credit: IAN BURT
Our series on health inequalities has revealed huge gaps between the rich and poor in Norfolk.
Life expectancy, addiction and obesity and how likely you are to suffer from mental health problems were all hugely dependent on your income before the Coronavirus hit, and now experts predict the pandemic will only widen those inequalities.
This is our manifesto for health inequalities, which outlines the key areas where action is needed.
They are by no means all of them, but would represent a start.
Innovation and new ideas
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Fresh approaches are needed to tackle health inequalities.
Former coalition care minster and North Norfolk MP Norman Lamb has urged the government to create a ‘resilience taskforce’ to plan for the inevitable Covid mental health fallout.
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At the South London and Maudsley NHS foundation trust, which he chairs, plans are in place to set up a community taskforce and train local mental health champions within vulnerable communities.
Council across the county have set up support lines for those hit hardest by Covid. This could be extended for people to get early intervention for any health or financial pressures that often lead to family breakdowns and mental health referrals.
Though not a silver bullet, ideas like this could head off many of the problems that can lead to mental health deterioration and familial break downs at the source.
The increase in collaboration and data sharing between health services and local authorities needs to continue.
The Protect Norfolk and Waveney project now targets vulnerable people from deprived areas for different types of treatment and relies on a data sharing between the CCG, Norfolk County Council and hospital trusts.
And the Norfolk and Waveney Health and Care Partnership has become an integrated care system, which will hopefully make it easier for disparate parts of the healthcare sector to work together.
Access to health care
Doctors working in Norfolk have told us we need more GPs and senior nurses in deprived areas. As we’ve seen in this series, poorer people have less access to primary health care.
Covid has already meant an increase in phone and video appointments, that are likely to miss subtleties and signals picked up in face-to-face meetings. Deprived communities with less access to technology will suffer more.
The day of the family GP are over, but the danger is Covid will make joined up primary health care even more difficult.
A holistic approach to health
There needs to be a continued focus on ‘social prescribing’ and non-medical interventions to ease the strain on the NHS and connect people to community services and charities.
Social prescribing can include self-help groups, adult learning, gym-based activities and therapy, or can be as simple as a GP prescribing a park run.
While not a catch-all answer and probably not suitable for everyone, this is and should continue to be a priority area for Norfolk’s health chiefs and the wider NHS, as mental health services in particular brace for a wave of referrals.
Access to exercise
Over the last decade millions of pounds have been spent by councils across the country on active travel and cycle lanes, with fresh funding this year as a result of Covid.
But this year’s ‘Cycling for Everyone’ report by sustainable travel group Sustrans suggested deprived communities are missing out on new cycle links in 12 cities and towns outside Norfolk, while more affluent areas with high numbers of cyclists were benefiting.
Norfolk Council have confirmed deprivation is a key consideration when they decide where new active travel and cycle infrastructure goes. This needs to continue and be made a key consideration in all transport policies.
Schools need to make sure they are doing their bit as well.
Health inequalities should be a key consideration in all walks of council life.
In a similar way to filling out equality impact forms, authorities should consider the impact of housing and planning decisions on health inequalities.
Substandard or crowded housing is likely to lead to poor health. We’ve seen this inequality have a direct impact during the Covid crisis so far, with outbreaks linked to meat factory workers in overcrowded housing last year.
Support for charities
Vital grass-roots charities are facing an existential crisis as the virus continues. Their main source of income is through donations, which has been hit hard during the last year.
As we’ve seen in this series, charities play a vital role in picking up the slack that NHS services can’t provide. Some, like the Matthew Projects veteran addiction service Outside the Wire might not be around in 2022.
Funding that is available isn’t trickling down to the smaller, grass roots charities so many people rely on in Norfolk and Waveney. The government needs to do more.