Thursday 9 April 2020 12:01 am

Coronavirus downturn ‘will exacerbate UK health inequality’

The economic downturn caused by the coronavirus outbreak will disproportionately harm the health of the most vulnerable in society and exacerbate inequality, a top think tank has warned.

In a report published today, the Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS) said the pandemic was putting the NHS under “unprecedented” strain, leading to cancelled operations and disruptions to emergency care not related to the virus.

While the health implications of this are far reaching, it will disproportionately affect older people and those from less affluent backgrounds, the researchers said.

Emergency hospital admissions per head are 10 times higher among those in their 90s than among those in their 30s, and 1.7 times higher among those from the most deprived areas than among those from the least deprived, according to the report.

Elective admissions are also significantly higher among older people, meaning they will be most affected by cancellations.

In addition, the IFS said the economic downturn itself would have “persistent negative health effects”, prompting a huge increase in chronic health conditions.

The damning report pointed to the consequences of worsening economic conditions on people with pre-existing mental health difficulties and for young children.

The impact of the downturn is likely to vary across the country as some industries and communities are hit harder by social distancing measures than others.

Put together, these effects were likely to exacerbate existing geographical and socioeconomical health inequalities, the IFS warned.

“The health impacts of the economic downturn caused by the coronavirus pandemic will be felt long after the social distancing measures come to an end,” said IFS research economist Heidi Karjalainen.

“Many of those who are most exposed to the economic shutdown — such as low income families, especially those with young children — are also most vulnerable to long-term effects on both physical and mental health.”

She added: “By making sure that the groups that are most at risk are also protected from the negative effects of a downturn, the government can help minimise the long-run detrimental health impacts that would otherwise occur.”