One year ago Londoners were still assailed by the Covid-19 pandemic, with the emergence of its fast-spreading Omicron variant. National restrictions imposed to control the virus were not lifted until several weeks later. As 2023 gets underway, the capital and the rest of the country are facing a surge in influenza cases, with the National Health Service, yet to recover from the strains of the Covid period, again struggling to cope.
The very worst of this situation may be being endured in other parts of the United Kingdom, as the six hospital trusts coping with “critical incidents” – meaning they cannot function as they usually would because of exceptional pressures – are elsewhere in England.
However, the Evening Standard has reported that by Christmas Eve the number of flu patients in London hospitals had risen to 310 compared with only 34 on 20 November, and also a sharp increase in the number of patients waiting outside a hospital for more than an hour before being admitted. And a national opinion poll commissioned by the Liberal Democrats has found that at least one in three people in London and the south east have been unsuccessful in their attempts to secure a face-to-face meeting with their GP during the past 12 months. Plus Covid hasn’t gone away.
The large backdrop to the latest crisis period is ten years of underfunding relative to growing national demand which recent boosts – or questionable Boris Johnson promises – have not been enough to compensate for. Furthermore, there are large variations in the health of Londoners depending their ethnicity and income levels, and according to where in Greater London they live.
A snapshot – quite a detailed one – of health inequalities in London was produced last month by a combined working group from City Hall, NHS England, the Institute of Health Equity and the government’s Office for Health Improvement and Disparities. It underlines that the heavy impact of Covid on Londoners – 3.1 million cases recorded by December 2022 – “exposed existing health inequalities and how different circumstances in our lives ultimately determine our chances of poor health”.
The snapshot highlights how this was revealed by the differential impacts of Covid-19 on different sections of the population. Black, Pakistani and Bangladeshi communities were “disproportionately exposed to the virus”, it says, due to factors that included “social and economic inequalities such as living in overcrowded housing and financial vulnerabilities”, racism, a greater likelihood of working in “public-facing roles”, and factors contributing to the severity of conditions such as obesity, diabetes, cardiovascular diseases and asthma”. It adds that “many of these negative experiences are shared with low income groups from a range of ethnicities”.
Deprivation and ethnic inequality were also indictors of lower uptakes of Covid vaccinations. Black Londoners of Caribbean or African are shown from government statistics to be the ethnic group least likely to accept a flu jab.
The geographical areas where deprivation levels are highest are also those where life expectancy is lowest and vie versa: the snapshot puts it at 84 years for men and 89.3 years for women in the Petts Wood area of Bromley, which is where deprivation rates are lowest, and at 76.9 years for men and 85.7 years for women in Northumberland Park in Haringey, where the highest rates in London are found.
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