What are healthcare inequalities?

Health inequalities are unfair and avoidable differences in health across the population, and between different groups within society. These include how long people are likely to live, the health conditions they may experience and the care that is available to them.

The conditions in which we are born, grow, live, work and age can impact our health and wellbeing. These are sometimes referred to as wider determinants of health.

Wider determinants of health are often interlinked. For example, someone who is unemployed may be more likely to live in poorer quality housing with less access to green space and less access to fresh, healthy food. This means some groups and communities are more likely to experience poorer health than the general population. These groups are also more likely to experience challenges in accessing care.

The reasons for this are complex and may include:

  • the availability of services in their local area
  • service opening times
  • access to transport
  • access to childcare
  • language (spoken and written)
  • literacy
  • poor experiences in the past
  • misinformation
  • fear

People living in areas of high deprivation, those from Black, Asian and minority ethnic communities and those from inclusion health group, for example the homeless, are most at risk of experiencing these inequalities.

COVID-19 has shone a harsh light on some of the health and wider inequalities that persist in our society.  Guidance issued by NHS England in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, set out eight urgent actions for tackling health inequalities. This was later refined to five key priority areas which underpin the work of the National Healthcare Inequalities Improvement Programme.

We have also developed our Core20Plus5 approach to support the reduction of healthcare inequalities.

The Kings Fund have some helpful information which explains health inequalities in more detail.