Two years to tackle health inequalities before they are hardwired into a generation, says Yorkshire-born peer Lord Victor Adebowale

A senior health leader says the country has two years to take steps to tackle the health and wealth inequalities which have blighted the North “before it is hardwired into a generation to come”.

Lord Victor Adebowale, the Wakefield-born chair of the NHS Confederation, said the coronavirus pandemic had “drawn red lines” around the disparities in health which had been known about for years.

The crossbench peer spoke at an online conference organised by the Yorkshire and the Humber Academic Health Science Network (YHAHSN) into how health can drive economic growth and social inclusion.

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Leaders including Sheffield City Region mayor Dan Jarvis discussed how to build on a report this summer which said health inequalities undermine the region’s economic potential.

Some 30 percent of the gap in productivity between the North and elsewhere in England is thought to be due to ill health.

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Lord Adebowale, who was educated at Thornes House School in Wakefield, told industry leaders at the conference that they “cannot afford to fail” in tackling the problem as “here are too many people now who have suffered”.

He said: “It is not only unjust, it is expensive to have a situation where life expectancy in parts of Leeds, Bradford and Wakefield is decades shorter than wealthier areas in not just Yorkshire but the rest of the country.

Some 30 percent of the gap in productivity between the North of England and elsewhere in England is thought to be due to ill health. Pic: PA

“Actually, life expectancy means that you will start deteriorating physically and mentally in your 50s in some areas of Yorkshire and in the wealthier areas it’s in your 70s, so that means you’ll be using health services more and more frequently and more expensively as you suffer longer periods of ill health.

“That’s not the fault of individuals. That’s the fault of the design of health care, it’s the fault of our failure to engage populations in health care, and social care delivery. And it’s the fault of the failure to link that delivery with economic health and wealth.

“We’ve known for years, that for every one month someone’s unemployed, their mental health deteriorates.

“So, this issue is now mission critical, we are literally standing on a burning platform. We have maybe two years to get this right before it is hardwired into a generation to come and it’s hardwired into our spend our budgets and our planning.

“So, we can’t afford to waste time, we have to move, and we have to move now, and we have to move collectively.”

He advocated local leaders working together to engage more with communities and moving towards the idea of ‘population health’, an approach that aims to improve physical and mental health outcomes, promote wellbeing and reduce health inequalities across an entire population.

In July, a YHAHSN report ‘Levelling Up Yorkshire and Humber: health as the new wealth post-COVID’ said the region could become home to the new ‘golden triangle’ of research excellence and help improve the health of the nation after the coronavirus pandemic.

It said Yorkshire and the Humber has more than 670 life sciences companies and around 500 specialising in medical technology, more than traditional research powerhouses Oxford and Cambridge combined.

And it says that with the right support from national and local leaders as part of the ‘levelling up agenda’, the “rich set of connections” the region boasts in health research and innovation could be used to boost the local economy and the health of the population.