Scotland

Health inequality gap in Scotland narrows

Run-down area of Govan Image copyright PA
Image caption Deaths from heart disease are about five times more likely in Scotland's most deprived areas

The gap in health between people living in the most and least deprived areas has narrowed, according to a new analysis of inequality.

The Scottish government report covers a 15-year-period from 1997 to 2012.

It revealed that hospital admissions for heart attacks were three times higher in poorer areas than in the least deprived areas.

Public Health Minister Michael Matheson said tackling health problems remained one of Scotland's greatest challenges.

Deaths in the poorest areas of the country were more than three times as common as in the most affluent in 2012.

The report said the admission rate for heart attacks in the most deprived areas had increased by 45% since 2007 and by 15% in the last year.

Deaths from heart disease are about five times more likely in Scotland's worst-off areas, compared with its most affluent communities.

'Shift in emphasis'

According to the report, cancer is more common in deprived parts of the country.

Those aged 45-74 who are diagnosed with the disease in deprived areas are also more than twice as likely to die.

The report also showed that alcohol-related admissions were falling faster among people from poor areas than affluent backgrounds.

"The difference between rates in the most and least deprived areas in 2012 was the smallest observed in the reporting period," it said.

"However, the rate in the most deprived areas is around eight times higher than in areas of low deprivation."

Mr Matheson said: "Reducing the health gap between people in Scotland's most deprived and affluent communities is one of our greatest challenges.

"At the root this is an issue of income inequality - we need a shift in emphasis from dealing with the consequences to tackling the underlying causes, such as ending poverty, fair wages, supporting families and improving our physical and social environments."

Smoking ban

He said the Scottish government was working to tackle inequality and poverty "in the face of the UK government's welfare cuts" and said more powers were needed to develop a Scottish system.

Andrew Fraser, director of public health science at NHS Health Scotland, said: "Measures such as the ban on smoking in public places and minimum unit pricing (MUP) for alcohol are likely to be effective, as would further regulation of the food industry.

"However, many of the most important causes of inequalities relate to taxation, welfare provision, education and opportunities for good work.

"As the impact of current welfare and tax changes come to fruition, competition for less-skilled jobs tightens, and as in-work poverty continues to rise, these factors may well increase health inequalities in the coming years.

"Therefore, a sustained decline in health inequalities is going to be challenging to achieve in these circumstances."

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