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Health and social care secretary vows to tackle hidden costs of Covid

The health and social care secretary has today outlined his vision for tackling the hidden costs of Covid-19.

Speaking at the Grange Community Centre in Blackpool, Sajid Javid set out the unique challenges created by the pandemic and described his determination to tackle the ‘social backlog’ that has built up, including by cutting waiting times, reforming social care and improving mental health provision.

Mr Javid said the global pandemic has also shone a light on the health disparities that exist across the country, evident in varying mortality rates, hospital admissions and vaccine uptake, and reiterated the government’s commitment to addressing these inequalities in order to level up public health.

He said: ‘I couldn’t simply be the ‘minister for covid’, because we had to turn and face all the other challenges too.

‘Challenges like the backlog. More than five and a half million people are on the waiting list for elective treatment, that is a record high. But the backlog in elective care is only one part of the story. Covid-19 has had many hidden costs.

‘Passing the peak of the pandemic has been like a receding tide, revealing the underlying health of our nation. It’s revealed some fractures within. And in many cases, the pandemic has deepened those fractures.

‘It’s this government’s mission to unite and level up across the whole of the UK, to build back better and to build back fairer.’

Mr Javid also set out the steps the government is taking to tackle mental health as an essential and indispensable part of levelling up health and ensuring we have a safer, carer and more supportive society.

He said: ‘We’re ending historic injustices by updating our Mental Health Act, ensuring people in acute mental distress are still met with the compassion and choice they deserve. At the same time, we’re looking at those resources that can help everyone.

‘We know that one in four people living in deprived areas has a common mental health disorder, so we need to look at everything that’s holding people back from living their very best lives.

‘Our long-term plan commits an extra £2.3bn a year to transforming mental health services by 2023, expanding them to reach families, communities, workplaces, and schools. And we’re launching brilliant new resources, like Every Mind Matters.’

Against the backdrop of Blackpool, which has eight of the 10 most deprived neighbourhoods in England, and where 40% of the neighbourhoods are classed as ‘highly deprived’, the Health and Social Care Secretary laid out his mission to level up the public’s health.

During the pandemic, Blackpool has seen higher testing rates than the national average, vaccination rates as high as anywhere in England and some of the highest vaccine uptakes in care homes nationally.

Despite having the lowest life expectancy in England, these interventions have helped ensure that deaths from COVID-19 have been lower in Blackpool than the surrounding areas.

Mr Javid said: ‘I have seen real deprivation, and I know what it’s like to feel as if you’re on the outside of the country looking in.

‘So the story I want to tell here in Blackpool is not the one you might be expecting. Because Blackpool has actually bucked the trend in many other ways when it comes to Covid-19.

‘So for me, whether it’s Blackpool or Bristol, Rochdale or Ruislip, the real message of the pandemic is that health interventions, they can work. We really can make a difference when we work together and we’re all focused on our goals.

‘Realising our mission to level up in health means tackling our social backlog, in mental health and public health, with the same spirit and sense of urgency with which we all tackled the pandemic.’

The secretary of state highlighted the need for a new approach to public health as although people are living longer than ever before they spend more of these years in poor health.

He spoke about plans for the new Office for Health Improvement and Disparities, which formally launches on 1 October to support cross-government efforts to reduce health inequalities and level up public health, ensuring everyone has the chance to live happy and healthy lives.

Under the leadership of chief medical officer Chris Whitty, OHID will look at how we prevent poor mental and physical health by tackling tobacco, obesity and poor diet and the harmful use of alcohol and drugs, and will work with partners, from the NHS to industry, life sciences to academia, to address health inequalities and variable access to health services.

Mr Javid said: ‘The genius of universal healthcare is just that: it’s universal.

‘So as Secretary of State, I’m determined everyone gets access to the health and care they need, especially the kind of preventive action that will stop them from becoming ill in the first place. That’s another way we ensure, not just a healthier society, but a fairer society too.

‘Even before the pandemic, it was clear that we needed a new approach to public health. We have an ageing population and an increase in people with multiple health conditions. We’re living longer yet spending more of our life in poor health. And the poorer you are, the greater the proportion of your life is spent in ill health.

‘Working together, we can be the great levellers, levelling up in health and bringing about the healthier, fairer and more supportive society. Just what we all deserve.’

Responding to the speech, Dr Jennifer Dixon, chief executive of the Health Foundation, said:

‘The Health Secretary has today delivered an optimistic vision of a healthier and fairer society. His acknowledgement that levelling up health is fundamental to levelling up the economy is welcome.

‘He also recognised that the conditions in which people live are fundamental to their health and wellbeing. As the Health Secretary has identified, government action on the wider factors that impact health, including education, housing and welfare, will be essential to this mission.

‘We now need action to follow these warm and welcome words. The reality is that public health funding has been cut by over £1bn in the last 10 years and further cuts have been made to services that are fundamental to people’s health, like education and housing.

‘The level of basic income also impacts health and the end to the Universal Credit uplift of £20 per week on October 6th will impact the poorest and sickest in England. Government investment is needed now to reverse the trends.

‘The key test for the Health Secretary’s vision will be whether he can develop a coherent cross-government strategy to boost the population’s health and reduce avoidable inequalities.

‘As a first step, health should be a common thread throughout the forthcoming white paper on levelling up and in the Spending Review. Without health there can be no prosperity.’

Photo Credit – Parliament

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