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30% in deprived areas use NHS emergency services due to lack of GP access

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More people are delaying seeking medical help due to the cost of living, thereby  increasing the financial burden on the NHS.  

Poverty not only takes a significant toll on people’s health but also leads to additional costs for the National Health Service (NHS). Rise in deep poverty, cost-of-living crisis, and high pressure on NHS services have worsened the situation, according to a study published by The King’s Fund this week.

The report underscored that poverty and deprivation contribute to a greater prevalence of diseases, difficulties in accessing health care, late or delayed treatment, and worse health outcomes. These challenges could be seen across various NHS services, spanning from emergency care to dental services

Additionally, it revealed that 30 per cent of people living in the most deprived areas have turned to 999, 111, A&E or a walk-in centre because they could not access a GP appointment.

In 2016, the Joseph Rowntree Foundation (JRF) estimated the cost of poverty on health care at £29 billion (£34 billion in current prices). As the proportion of people living in deep poverty has risen, the situation has worsened. In 2021/22, six million people were living in very deep poverty, up from 4.5 million two decades ago. Currently, more than one in five people in the UK are estimated to be living in poverty, the report noted.

Deprivation is linked to a range of diet-related health problems, including cardiovascular disease and diabetes, as well as mental illness. According to the report, the depression rate is two times higher among people living in the most deprived areas, compared to the least deprived areas.

Sadly, people who most need medical care are the least likely to receive it. The report revealed that patients in the most deprived areas of England were twice as likely to wait more than a year for non-urgent treatment, compared to those living in the least deprived areas.

Furthermore, the rise in the cost-of-living is leading to many older people from lower social grades to skip dentist, GP and non-urgent hospital appointments, as well as their vital medications.

“Couldn’t afford”, “put off by waiting times”, “don’t think I would be eligible” were common reasons for people not accessing health care despite their health worsening, as per the report.

Higher emergency hospital admissions, higher A&E attendances, and higher/longer critical care stays were also seen among more deprived groups.

Besides increasing pressure on late-stage NHS services, delayed treatment leads to worse health outcomes. The report cited that between March 2021 and January 2023, the age-standardised mortality rate in the lowest IMD decile was almost double that of the highest.

Not only do people in more deprived areas die sooner, but they also live a higher proportion of their lives with health problems. Increasing cases of multimorbidity are placing additional strain on NHS services.

“That people in poverty experience worse health is bad for them, bad for the economy, and bad for the NHS,” the report noted.

In its report, the health and social care charity underscored the NHS should enhance efforts to deliver services that are readily accessible to people living in poverty.

The study was commissioned and funded by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation (JRF).

 

 

 

 

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