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Britain's Growing Health Inequality

How Where You Live Can Affect Your Chances Of Effective Treatment

When it comes to receiving healthcare, we take for granted that regardless of where you live in the UK, you will receive the same standard of care.

Sadly, a new report has shown this is not necessarily the case.

In April 2019, the cancer survival statistics were released, and they made for sobering reading.  Although cancer survival rates overall have improved since 2001, if you have lung cancer, how long you will live may depend on your location.

Lung cancer is a killer.  It claims the lives of more people than any other disease and accounts for over a fifth (21%) of all cancer deaths.  And if you live in a poorer part of the country, your survival rate may be less than if you are treated in a more affluent area.

For example, according to the Independent, who analysed the statistics, in 2016, just 30.7 per cent of people diagnosed with lung cancer in Medway Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG) in Kent survived beyond one year, compared to 53.8 per cent of people in Westminster CCG, London – a gap of 23.1 percentage points.  In 2001, this gap was just 19.1 points.

There is positive news – overall, lung cancer survival rates have jumped from 26.3% to 41.6%.

Where you live affects your health over a lifetime

It has long been known that where you live has a significant impact on your long-term health.

In her book, Health Divides, Clare Bambra provides some stark facts, including:

  • Scottish men live two years less than Englishmen
  • Northerners live on average two years less than Southerners
  • Londoners living in Canning Town at one end of the Jubilee Line enjoy seven years less life than those living eight stops away in Westminster
  • In Stockton-on-Tees in the Northeast, there is a 17-year gap in life expectancy between men and 11 years for women between its richest and poorest neighbourhoods

Crucially, Ms Bambra discovered in her research that all countries have a ‘North’.  For example, there is a massive 25-year gap between the life expectancy between the residents of Iberville and Navarre suburbs of New Orleans, despite the fact they are only three miles apart.

Poverty negatively affects health in numerous ways.  Even if those in deprived areas can afford healthy food, they may be working disjointed hours in low-skilled, low-paid jobs which leave them little time to prepare fresh meals.  Lack of access to parks and recreation areas result in low physical activity, and boredom and hopelessness lead some people to turn to alcohol and cigarettes for comfort and escape.

But taking these factors out of the equation; if you do get sick, all NHS Trusts should provide equal care, right?

Unfortunately not.

More than one in five hospitals are not hitting key waiting-time targets

In late 2018, the BBC reported that twenty-nine hospital trusts and boards out of 157 had not hit a single target in the entire year. 

In England, Wales, Scotland, and Northern Ireland, A&E patients are meant to be seen (that is either admitted to hospital, treated, or discharged) within four hours.  Those diagnosed with cancer are to start treatment within 62 days of an urgent referral.  For non-emergency treatment such as eyes-surgery or knee-replacements, Welsh patients are meant to be seen in 26 weeks.  In England and Scotland, it is 18 weeks. 

The BBC findings showed that 16 hospital trusts missed their monthly targets.  Locations of these trusts varied throughout the country.  In Wales; however, five out of seven trusts failed to meet their targets.

In April 2018, the ten hospitals with the worst A&E waiting times were revealed, and six of those were in the Midlands or the North.

The problem of inequality of treatment is not new.  In 2013, former NHS National Medical Director, Prof Sir Bruce Keogh, published a report on 14 failing NHS Trusts in England.  Between them, they were responsible for up to 13,000 “excess deaths” since 2005.

The hospitals in the report were: Basildon and Thurrock in Essex; United Lincolnshire; Blackpool; The Dudley Group, West Midlands; George Eliot, Warwickshire; Northern Lincolnshire and Goole; Tameside, Greater Manchester; Sherwood Forest, Nottinghamshire; Colchester, Essex; Medway, Kent; Burton, Staffordshire; North Cumbria; East Lancashire; and Buckinghamshire Healthcare.  The report demonstrated that warning signs were clearly visible for managers and ministers to see, including alarming levels of infections, patients suffering from neglect and appalling blunders such as surgery performed on the wrong parts of bodies.

There is an overlap between those hospitals identified in the BBC report in late 2018, and those featured in the Keogh Report, five years earlier.

Poor healthcare and negligence claims

If you are admitted to hospital or are referred for treatment by a specialist or your GP, the NHS Trust has a duty of care to ensure you are treated correctly and in a reasonable time.  If this does not occur and as a result, you suffer harm (for example, your cancer progresses, or your injury becomes worse, or side-effects develop that would not have occurred if you had received timely treatment), you may have a claim in negligence.

We know that NHS Trusts are under immense financial and staffing pressures.  However, negligence is not acceptable, and if you have been caused harm, you may require compensation to rebuild your life.

If you wish to talk about any of the points raised in this article, please phone us on 0333 123 9099, email us at enquiries@ibbclaims.co.uk or fill in our contact form.  Any discussions you have with us will be in the strictest of confidence.

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