Richard Stubbs, chief executive of the Yorkshire and the Humber Academic Health Science Network, said Covid-19 has shone a bright light on the impact of health inequalities which are particularly keenly felt in the North.
The pandemic disproportionately affected those from BAME communities, older people, males, people living in the country’s most deprived areas, the obese and those living with long term health conditions.
But even before that, a number of reports warned of the growing gap in health outcomes between the North and South and the impact this was having on the economy in regions like Yorkshire.
The issue of how health and economic growth can be linked with each other was the subject of an online webinar organised by the AHSN this month which featured Sheffield City Region metro mayor Dan Jarvis and Yorkshire-born peer Lord Victor Adebowale.
Mr Stubbs, whose organisation is one of 15 around the country set up to operate as the key innovation arm of the NHS said poor health had a "significant impact on the region’s productivity and economic prosperity".
Its report ‘Levelling Up Yorkshire and Humber: health as the new wealth post-COVID’ this summer made a series of recommendations on how leaders should begin tackling the challenges in our region.
He said: “The greater focus and renewed interest in tackling inequalities which has been brought about by the pandemic provides a significant opportunity to begin truly ‘levelling up’ the North and tackling some of the region’s long-standing inequalities.
“Health and economic prosperity are intrinsically linked, both directly contribute to a person’s wellbeing, and both therefore deserve an equal amount of focus by government leaders.
“The current political debate focuses on ‘health or wealth’, meaning political decisions focus on actions which protect lives or the economy.
"This simply isn’t the case, ultimately one supports the other, meaning we need to embed a deeper and consistent focus on health in all economic decision making in the future.
“A renewed focus on the region’s health provides a real catalyst for tackling some of the economic challenges which have been brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic, enabling us to reimagine and renew our economy.
“We shouldn’t be focussing on just ‘economic recovery’, instead, we should be focussing on ‘building back better’, building an economy which is more inclusive, provides everyone with economic opportunity, and enables everyone to make healthy life choices.
“We have a real opportunity for change presented in front of us, however the opportunity is time limited, and we have an ever-increasing need to act fast if we’re to capitalise on the opportunities we have been presented with.”
Mr Jarvis said: “The Covid-19 crisis has confirmed what we already knew: that population health, personal and collective well-being and economic success are inextricably linked.
"We also know that the pandemic has disproportionally hit the North, and more specifically, those areas already suffering from deprivation.
"The Covid-19 crisis has acted as a catalyst in thinking about how we better invest in the health and well-being of our residents.
"To truly level up South Yorkshire, the wider North and the nation, we must address the root causes of existing health inequalities with the same energy as we are focusing on the renewal of our economy.
"Metro Mayors are perfectly placed to lead the social and economic recovery of our communities. But we need Government to deliver the tools for us to do so.
"We need the resources and powers required to build a stronger, greener and fairer South Yorkshire, rather than more top-down control.”