Observations Body Politic

Mind the gap

BMJ 2009; 338 doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1136/bmj.b2604 (Published 30 June 2009) Cite this as: BMJ 2009;338:b2604
  1. Nigel Hawkes, freelance journalist
  1. nigel.hawkes1{at}btinternet.com

    Britain is a profoundly unequal country, and there’s not much that health care can do about that

    One of the first acts of the incoming Labour government in 1997 was to ask Donald Acheson, then chief medical officer, to carry out a review of health inequalities. A decade after his recommendations the Department of Health published, in May, a review of what has happened since (www.dh.gov.uk/en/Publicationsandstatistics/Publications/PublicationsPolicyAndGuidance/DH_098936). It is a first class report—but what piffling progress it records. Health inequalities are as wide as ever, wider in some cases. Successes, where they exist, are measured in fractions of a percentage, at the margin of statistical significance.

    You would have been hard pressed to discern this from the speech made by Alan Johnson, secretary of state for health at the time of publication. He rightly celebrated improvements in life expectancy and infant mortality but did not acknowledge the unwelcome figures that his own report spelt out. The gap between disadvantaged groups and the rest of the population in these two measures has not changed, it says: “The current data (for 2005-07) shows that the gap is no narrower than when the targets were first set.”

    Speaking to the Fabian Society, Mr Johnson thought he could win an …

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