The economic hit caused by Covid threatens to drive up poverty and widen Britain’s health inequalities, Chris Whitty has warned.
The chief medical officer (CMO) said people “on the borderlines of deprivation” were facing more hardship and it could have a “massive impact” on health services in the future.
Speaking at a Downing Street press conference marking a year since the first lockdown, he warned government to “take seriously” the impact of poverty on health.
Several studies, including one by the Health Foundation, have linked deprivation with ill-health and the greater likelihood of developing disease.
The ONS also found last year that people from the poorest parts of England and Wales were twice as likely to die from Covid.
Whitty suggested the economic hit of lockdown will push people “on the borderlines of deprivation” into “more difficult” circumstances.
He added: “And we all know that has a massive impact on long-term health implications, so that could really have quite a long-term implication if we don’t take it seriously.”
The CMO for England said that “Covid has shone a light into areas of healthcare”, adding: “The people who are being affected by Covid now are the same same families, the same places, the same people who are affected by so many other diseases.
“I think we really need to look at this very seriously because the same people will be suffering from the diseases of smoking, other diseases of deprivation and so on.
“We’ve really got to take this very seriously as a country and as a community.”
It comes as new data published by the Office for National Statistics underlined 1.7 million were unemployed in January, with 693,000 jobs lost since last February.
Data released on Monday also revealed that a huge life expectancy gap between people in England’s most deprived and most affluent areas.
Healthy life expectancy at birth among men living in the most deprived areas was 52.3 years in 2017 to 2019, compared with 70.7 years among those living in the least deprived areas, the ONS said.
Whitty also said that Covid-19 will remain with us “for the foreseeable future” and the impact on the NHS may be “delayed” due to people putting off routine screening for diseases such as cancer.
“There will be people for example who’ve probably delayed having screening and I would really encourage people to take that up for things like cervical cancer, breast cancer, which run the risk of people having a delayed diagnosis.
“The same will be true for people who’ve not gone for routine or elective care, who normally would.”