The Guardian newspaper reported that women in the poorest areas of England are dying earlier than the average female in almost every comparable country in the world. Those living in the most deprived areas of England can expect to live 78.7 years, almost eight years fewer than in England’s wealthiest areas, a study has discovered.
The UK average is 83.1 and the England average is. 83.2. Some of the most deprived areas in England include Blackpool, Knowsley, Liverpool and Middlesbrough. The least deprived areas include Chiltern, Hampshire and Rutland, the latter not far from us here in Lincolnshire.
So women get a double blow of being female AND living in poverty and deprived areas.
Why is this?
Women are often called the ‘shock absorbers of poverty’. This is because when it comes to difficult economic choices that have to be made, such as now with the “cost of living crisis”, it is often -dare we say usually?-women who make the sacrifices. It is they who will miss meals to ensure children are fed or who will not put heating on to save money if they are in the house alone. But their lives can be shortened by this, as this deprivation leads to health issues, not only physical, but mental as well, with depression and anxiety rising. The link between poverty and poor health and thus reduced life expectancy cannot be ignored. We agree it is not only linked to women, but they do seem to be in the majority when it comes to poor health outcomes.
A Department of Health and Social Care spokesperson said:
“A Health Disparities White Paper, due later this year, will set out action to reduce the gap in health outcomes between different places, so that people’s backgrounds do not dictate their prospects for a healthy life”
But it inevitably does. In poorer areas, there is less access to quality health care. If you have money, you can take out private health insurance (leaving the arguments about whether it is right to do so for another day…) and get checked out early if you have concerns about a lump or an unusual symptom. You can have your hip or knee replaced within weeks rather than years, which enables you to keep working or if retired, enjoy your life again. Private care is usually fine for the more common and straightforward treatments and surgeries and you could argue that it takes pressure off the NHS, which is brilliant in it’s primary role of emergency health care free at the point of need, but needs to be able to offer more in terms of prevention and follow-up.
This is where we as medical negligence lawyers are beginning to see more failures. The appointment letter that didn’t get sent out for the biopsy; the 6 month wait for an appointment which is then cancelled at the last minute, turning something remediable into something terminal; the telephone appointment instead of face to face where the “funny rash” -skin cancer-is missed and diagnosed as an allergy; the 18 hour wait for the ambulance following a “panic attack” which turned out to be a fatal heart attack. It’s getting the access to treatments and surgeries which seems to be a growing problem.
We have written before about the inequalities and differences in how women’s health issues are seen and treated in comparison to men’s. It seems we now have to add poverty and deprivation to the mix for women. Although the government keeps saying it is going to tackle these issues, like much in the NHS, we believe a fundamental change in attitude is required.
Women are NOT just smaller men. Our bodies function differently and react differently. We have specific issues, such as the menopause, gynaecological problems and childbirth. Not everything can be resolved by anti-depressants. Gingerbread, a national charity working with and for single parent families, tells us that 90% of single parent families are headed by women, thus we are possibly more likely to have stress and strained finances.
These statistics for life expectancy must be taken seriously, as must the need for women’s health equality.