Tue 26 October 2021

A study by the Department of Health and Social Care and the Office for National Statistics delves into the health inequalities that have afflicted Britain during the COVID-19 crisis

People from deprived backgrounds have been twice as likely to die during the Coronavirus pandemic as people from wealthy backgrounds, new official research has found.

A paper detailing the finding by the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) and the Office for National Statistics (ONS), explores the multi-faceted health impacts caused by the crisis.

According to the document, the Coronavirus mortality rate among the most deprived 20% of people – controlling for age and population size – was almost double the mortality rate of the richest 20% of people from March 2020 to April 2021.

The mortality rate among the poorest was 264.6 per 100,000 people, compared to 140.4 among the richest.

The study also shows that self-reported symptoms of ‘Long COVID’ – persistent effects among those who have caught the disease – have been 50% higher among the most deprived, compared with the least deprived.

The DHSC-ONS study investigates both the direct and indirect health impacts of the pandemic, including the knock-on effect of postponed treatments for other diseases. For example, the report shows that 23 million fewer GP consultations (both in-person and over the phone) took place in 2020 versus 2019.

The West Midlands, East Midlands, and Yorkshire and the Humber suffered less from direct Coronavirus impacts than other regions, the document reveals, but they experienced greater health impacts from reduced COVID-19 activity, with elective care treatments (procedures planned in advance) falling by more than 38% between February 2020 and February 2021, compared with the previous 12 months.

The new study also devotes considerable attention to examining the prevalence of the Coronavirus among black and ethnic minority groups. It found that, during the first wave of the pandemic, the highest death rates were among black African, Bangladeshi, black Caribbean and Pakistani groups. People from all ethnic minority groups, except for women in the Chinese and ‘white Other’ ethnic groups, displayed a higher COVID-19 death rate than the white British population.

During the second wave of the pandemic, mortality rates worsened for people from Bangladeshi and Pakistani backgrounds, compared with the white British population. In this period, the COVID-19 mortality rate among the Bangladeshi population was five times greater than the rate among white British men and 4.1 times greater than the rate among white British women.


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Previous studies have linked unequal Coronavirus death rates to the prevalence of pre-existing health conditions in deprived communities, a higher likelihood of households with multiple occupants, as well as poorer working conditions, a lack of access to sick pay, and a greater volume of people working in human-facing professions.

People “working as security guards, taxi drivers and chauffeurs, bus and coach drivers, chefs, sales and retails assistants, lower skilled workers in construction and processing plants, and men and women working in social care had significantly high rates of death from COVID-19,” according to a Public Health England report, published in August 2020, which investigated how the disease manifested during the first wave.

The new report also reveals the extreme gender disparities that have unfolded during the pandemic. Both men and women have shown comparable rates of infection, but men constituted 70% of Intensive Care Unit (ICU) admissions from April 2020 to April 2021.

“Ill health and disease concentrating in areas of deprivation is long-standing and needs to be tackled,” wrote England’s Chief Medical Officer Professor Chris Whitty in his 2020 annual health report. “Describing and deploring it is not enough; we need to have actionable plans to improve it.”

The need for action appears to be more urgent than ever.


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