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Major Debate - the Way Forward to Tackle the Nation's Health Inequalities

Originally Published 12 December 2003

Over 200 health researchers and practitioners from all over the UK will gather at the University of Warwick on Monday 15th December 2003 to examine health inequalities and look at where Government policy and health practice need to be improved.

Five years ago Ministers invited Sir Donald Acheson to undertake an independent review of inequalities of health in England. The initial inquiry was set up to contribute to the development of the Government's strategy for health and action on inequalities.

Now, following an approach by Sir Donald Acheson to hold a review of progress since the 1998 Inquiry, the event entitled “The Acheson Inquiry Five Years on: Has the Gap Been Narrowed?” organised by Warwick’s Institute of Health, is set to debate to what extent health inequalities have been reduced and to identify ways forward in terms of policy and practice. Chaired by Sir Donald Acheson the conference is designed to provide a platform to capture state of the art thinking on tackling inequalities in health.

‘Beyond beer, fags and chips’ is the title of one of the plenary sessions that will examine lay expertise and another talk by Professor George Davey Smith is analysing what has been happening to inequalities in death under New Labour. Workshops are to tackle pressing topics such as ethnicity and health inequalities, food and nutrition, the impact of housing conditions on health and inequities pathways and provision of mental health care.

Professor Nick Spencer, from the University of Warwick, said: "Despite recent reductions in child poverty, child poverty rates in the UK remain amongst the highest in rich nations, and this is especially concerning as childhood disadvantage stretches into adult life, as well as affecting health and well-being during childhood itself."

“The conference seeks to move beyond the Acheson report and to address the policy initiatives and future research that could improve the population’s health. More initiatives are needed to prevent illness, reduce inequalities and manage chronic conditions.”

Dr Hannah Bradby, from the Department of Sociology at the University of Warwick, said: "Many pressing health matters, such as the inequalities in health care amongst ethnic minority groups were not adequately addressed in the initial Acheson inquiry, and social exclusion persists. Racism and anti-Muslim discrimination has increased along with heightened fears of terrorism, and policies that target some groups are politically contentious. Language is also a barrier to accessing healthcare and new waves of asylum seekers and refugees are likely to experience very low standards of living, with adverse consequences for their health."

The UK performs poorly compared to other developed countries on key measures of population health, such as life expectancy at birth and rates of chronic conditions, including coronary heart disease, cancer, diabetes and respiratory diseases. Unhealthy lifestyles, poverty and inequalities impact adversely upon health, and infant mortality rates are 70% higher in the most deprived areas of England than in the most affluent areas.

The conference will help promote awareness of recent research in health inequalities and how to put this into practice. It will take place at the Warwick Medical School, Gibbet Hill, University of Warwick, and media are welcome to attend.

Contacts: Professor Nick Spencer, University of Warwick, Tel: 02476 523 167/ Jenny Murray, University of Warwick, Tel: 02476 574 255, Mobile: 07876 217 740