NHS report lays bare Scotland’s health inequalities

People who live in the poorest areas of Scotland are twice as likely to die early or live with ill health than those from the wealthiest parts according to a new study out today.
People who live in the poorest areas of Scotland are twice as likely to die early or live with ill health than those from the wealthiest parts according to a new study out today.
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People who live in the poorest areas of Scotland are twice as likely to die early or live with ill health than those from the wealthiest parts according to a new study out today.

The Scottish Burden of Disease Deprivation report lays bare the growing disparity in the country with nearly a third (32.9 per cent) of early deaths and ill health that could be avoided if the whole population had the same life circumstances as the richest in society.

The NHS Health Scotland document shows that early death and illnesses associated with the factors that cause the most damage to health like drugs, tobacco, poor diet and alcohol are more prevalent in the poorest areas than in the wealthiest.

Rates of dying early from or living with ill health caused by drug use is 17 times higher in the poorest areas, with alcohol dependence 8.4 times greater and chronic liver disease 7.2 times higher in these parts.

Miles Briggs, Scottish Conservative Health spokesman described the fact people in the most-deprived areas are twice as likely to die early as “completely scandalous and deeply concerning”.

Dr Diane Stockton, the study lead at NHS Health Scotland said: “The stark inequalities highlighted in our report represent thousands of deaths that didn’t need to happen.

“Illnesses that people didn’t have to endure, and tragedy for thousands of families in Scotland.

“It does not have to be this way. The fact that people in our wealthiest areas are in better health and that conditions that cause most of the ill health and early death result from things we can change – like illnesses associated with mental wellbeing, diet, drug use and alcohol dependency – shows that it is possible to create a fairer healthier Scotland.

“Our report highlights that to do this, we have to improve the life circumstances of people in our poorest areas and prevent their early death or avoidable ill health.

“This is about more than encouraging healthy choices.

“It’s easier to access the things that harm our health in these areas, and so no one type of behaviour change is going to solve this problem on its own.

“It’s about addressing the environment we live, rest, play, work and learn in so that it supports us to be mentally and physically well. And it’s complex.

“There is no silver bullet, but, with collective effort for a fairer healthier Scotland, we can help to ensure that everyone in Scotland can enjoy their right to the highest attainable standard of health.”

The study is part of the wider work being done on the Scottish Burden of Disease and is the culmination of research that was originally funded by the Chief Scientist’s Office in the Scottish Government.

Mr Briggs said: “We have known for a long time about the health inequalities in Scotland, but hopefully this report will have an impact and spur SNP Ministers into action.

“Tackling health inequalities in Scotland is a huge challenge and one that needs cross-portfolio actions at all levels of government, as well as the support of all political parties in Scotland.

“The Scottish Conservatives will continue to put forward positive proposals aimed at reducing health inequalities such as offering extended GP appointments to patients in more deprived areas and with more complex needs, and by focusing on preventative measures in every community.”

Scottish Labour Shadow Cabinet Secretary for Health Anas Sarwar said: “Today in Scotland, life expectancy and quality of life has as much to do with the privilege someone is born into as anything 
else.

“The next Scottish Labour government will ensure a ‘health inequality assessment’ of every policy.

“That doesn’t just mean our health and social care policies, but all across government from our budget to housing, transport, justice and education.”