Figures from the National Records of Scotland show those living in the most deprived areas have been disproportionately affected by Covid-19, and are 2.3 times more likely to die than those in the least deprived communities.
With the predicted economic downturn that we will see as lockdown eases, I fear that pre-existing health inequalities will continue to worsen across the whole country.
This report by the Deep End Group is important and timely. It highlights the crucial role that general practice can play in addressing health inequalities.
There is now increasing evidence to show that access to general practice reduces morbidity and mortality rates in areas of high deprivation. GPs build relationships of trust over time with their patients allowing them to have a better understanding of the complex challenges they face.
During the pandemic, the NHS has understandably focused on prioritising care and support to the medically vulnerable. Covid-19 has shone a spotlight on the socially vulnerable who are often more “hidden” but are also at risk of significant harm. In my own practice, our care coordinator team made outreach telephone calls to our most socially vulnerable patients whom we were concerned we had not heard from during lockdown.
We asked specifically about food, housing and personal security, and also about mental and physical health difficulties. Some 80% of these calls resulted in an onward “referral” to foodbanks, welfare advisors or a clinician. Our patients were delighted to have been contacted, highlighting the very important role that GPs and their practice teams play in providing healthcare in its widest sense.
The increased levels of awareness around the plight of the most vulnerable offers us a compassion window of opportunity for action. Professions and politicians must work together to ensure that beyond Covid-19, our NHS is best where it is needed most.
Carey Lunan is a GP in Craigmillar, Edinburgh, and chairwoman of the Royal College of General Practitioners Scotland.
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