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Tackling health inequalities

Cllr Chris Best, Cabinet Member for Health and Adult Social Care, reflects on recent work to tackle inequalities and its links to initiatives arising during the COVID-19 pandemic.

In Lewisham, if you are a baby boy born in a household that falls within the least deprived areas in the borough, you can expect to live just over seven years longer than a fellow boy born in a household within the most deprived areas.

During the pandemic, people of Black African and Black Caribbean heritage in England were over-represented in deaths and cases of COVID-19.

These are just two examples of the health inequalities that run rife within our society. Tackling the causes of these inequalities is a key priority for Lewisham Council, particularly those affecting residents from Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic backgrounds.

Tackling these inequalities cannot be achieved by one organisation alone: it must be collaborative. We have been working with our local partners on this key priority through the local Health and Wellbeing Board since July 2018.

Earlier this month we held the second in our series of health inequalities summits, bringing together community groups and representatives from health and social care across Lewisham. Comments from this then fed into the March 2022 Health and Wellbeing Board meeting which, among other things, agreed a Health Equity programme investing £2m over the next two years.

While the COVID-19 pandemic brought health inequalities to the fore, it also triggered a surge in the kind of collaboration and creative thinking needed to solve problems.

We began working with Birmingham City Council on an innovative research project, the Birmingham and Lewisham African Caribbean Health Inequalities Review, opening difficult conversations, reviewing the published research alongside lived experience and testimony, and talking head on about what really needs to change - and the practical steps needed to make change lasting. The report has now been agreed – with priority actions identified – and will be launched after the local elections.

We have improved our methods for collecting local ethnicity data, which provides a clearer and more accurate basis for decision-making. It will allow us to take a more informed approach in our planning, delivery and evaluation of services and programmes in future.

We have created the Lewisham Health Inequalities Toolkit, an initiative for residents and key stakeholders in Lewisham to provide an introduction to the health inequalities in the borough – and what’s being done to tackle them.

We launched the COVID-19 Community Champions network – with more than 150 volunteers committed to sharing accurate information from trustworthy sources about COVID-19 within their own communities. Through regular webinars and emails, the network has remained vibrant, with information-sharing and discussion moving beyond COVID-19 alone to include other public health concerns, such us maintaining healthy weight and blood pressure.

We also worked in partnership with the Ascension Trust to set up three Beacon Hubs in the borough. These are drop-in centres where residents can get their blood pressure measured and ask any questions about health concerns they may have.

These initiatives not only help to demonstrate our commitment to tackling health inequalities, but further our understanding of how to go about it.

Dealing with health inequalities is vital to building a more just society. Health inequalities are avoidable and unjustifiable differences – they are not inevitable and, as a country, we need to embed work to address health inequalities throughout our policies whether on education, housing or employment.

I’m proud that Lewisham is leading the way on this work and I know we will continue to drive forward on this issue.

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