Real action needed to address systemic inequalities

NHSA's Hannah Davies reflects on the 2021 party conference season in her latest blog

14th October 2021

This year’s party conferences, Labour and Conservative, were at times a strange affair with a dissonance between the fact we’re still living through the biggest public health crisis of the past 100 years and a lack of discussion about how to move forward from it. 

Perhaps this was masked under “levelling up” which is the catch all term everyone is now trying to co-opt as their own. 

Representing a region that has felt, and continues to feel, the worst of the COVID-19 pandemic, in a country now cited as the most unequal in Western Europe, the Northern Health Science Alliance has one of the most legitimate claims to levelling up need. 

As much as everyone desperately wants things to be OK post-pandemic and life to be business as usual, there was at conference an awareness of the urgency around the need to tackle increasing inequalities in health and investment between the North and the rest of England. For the Conservatives to keep their former ‘Red Wall’ seats – and from Labour to win them back. 

In the health innovation space there is still a disconnect between the fact the country has some of the worst inequalities in the western world and that the most significant investment continues to go into the golden triangle (London, Oxford and Cambridge).  

This is still an area where levelling up has no clear commitment.  

This is despite this: 

And despite this: 

Health innovation is an area in which the North of England has been recognised as having huge levelling up potential. 

Luckily we at the NHSA have produced this handy report for government should they seek to redress this: 

We’re waiting for Government’s response through the Comprehensive Spending Review, and we’re hopeful – because this is real levelling up, in a sector where the North of England has a real chance of creating great jobs, stopping the graduate drain and improving the health of the region, all at the same time. 

We had a stimulating conversation with the new vaccines minister Maggie Throup and MP Katherine Fletcher at our Conservative Party event “Health Investment: How Can Life Sciences Drive Economic Growth” with Onward which give us a lot of hope – you can watch it here – as does continued engagement with George Freeman MP, the newly appointed Minister for Science, Research and Innovation. 

And there was a real recognition of the need to tackle health inequalities. Our Child of the North events, together with the N8 Research Partnership, saw the excellent Damian Green MP, leader of the One Nation Conservatives, and Mary Robinson, MP for Cheadle and member of the Northern Research Group of MPs, engage in-depth showing a great understanding of the need to tackle health, social and educational inequalities across the North, as did Tulip Siddiq, the Shadow Children and Early Years minister. We’re looking forward to continuing our relationship with all of them going forward. 

And at a mental health roundtable with Shadow Mental Health Minister Dr Rosena Allin-Khan there seemed a real will between third sector, industry and the NHS to transform how we treat mental health and talk about it. And the need for more interventions in it – particularly in the North. 

And acknowledging the horrific toll of COVID-19 on the North of England was our event with Policy@Manchester, which explored the findings of our recent ‘A Year of COVID-19 in the North‘ report which found that people in the North were 17% more likely to die of COVID-19 than those in the rest of England. 

We cannot tolerate the continued inequalities in this country. Both parties, whatever they call it – building back better, levelling up – need to address the systemic inequalities in England… 

  • in health research, and 
  • in health inequalities

Then perhaps we will see some movement towards what both the main parties say they want. 

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