Robin Swann: Poverty is the basis for Derry health inequalities and must be addressed

The Health Minister Robin Swann has accepted poverty needs to be tackled to address dire health inequalities afflicting poorer people in Derry.
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Mr. Swann said the conditions in which people are ‘born, grow, live, work and age’ are the underlying basis for higher sickness and lower life expectancies among people on lower incomes.

People Before Profit MLA Gerry Carroll raised the Department of Health’s recent ‘Health Inequalities Annual Report 2021’ which reported that poorer Derry men can expect to die five years earlier than their better-off fellow citizens.

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The report also showed how drug-related deaths and alcohol-related hospitalisations are far higher in poorer districts of Derry and Strabane.

Health Minister Robin SwannHealth Minister Robin Swann
Health Minister Robin Swann

Mr. Carroll quoted figures for the north as whole and noted how stark geographical inequalities are also evident with Derry at the wrong end of the league tables.

“Figures that we discussed recently in the Health Committee show that men in deprived areas die seven years younger than those in more affluent areas.

“The figure was five years for women. Those figures are really shocking. Belfast has 32 areas, and Derry and Strabane have 25, in which they perform below the average for health outcomes.

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“Does the Minister agree that poverty is the main driver of those inequalities and that, in order to tackle health inequalities, we need urgent action on the eradication of poverty?” he asked.

Mr. Swann said he agreed completely.

“When we talk about health inequalities, that is the measure at the end. We, as an Executive, a community and an Assembly, need to invest at the start so that we support the community and the individual throughout their life.

“As I said, those inequalities are subject to the conditions in which people are born, grow, live, work and age. If we, as an Executive, can improve people’s lived experience through their housing conditions, education, opportunity to work and opportunity to have a better life balance, we can really challenge those health inequalities. That is something that is, and should be, at the core of our Programme for Government.”

The Health Inequalities report highlighted how life expectancy for poorer Derry men was just 72.5 years - 5.3 years less than the district average (77.8 years). That’s the same life expectancy as currently enjoyed by citizens, of both sexes, of North Korea, Syria, Palestine and Venezuela according to World Bank data.