Progression on health inequality “disappointing”

The health gap between the rich and poor has widened in the UK despite billions of pounds worth spent on the health service, the Audit Commission has found. The NHS budget has doubled in the last ten years to reach £98bn last year yet there are still stark differences in the health of local communities, even between neighbouring ones. It is unclear how much money has been spent on tackling causes of ill health and narrowing the gap between rich and poor, a report said.

Government targets to cut deaths from heart disease and stroke by 2010 have already been met. However “stark problems remain”, including tackling teenage pregnancy, deprivation and obesity levels, the commission said. While teenage pregnancy, infant mortality and life expectancy have improved overall, richer areas still have better health than poorer ones and the disparity has increased, the report said. And while cash is being put into these areas, some results so far have been disappointing. The report said: “It is hard to see an obvious link between spending and improvement, or get any clear view of value for money.

A spokesman for the Department of Health said: “We are pleased that the Audit Commission recognises that life expectancy is the highest it has ever been and infant mortality is at an all-time low, but more needs to be done to narrow the gap between disadvantaged areas and the rest of England.”