Mary Kelly Foy, MP for the City of Durham
Mary Kelly Foy, MP for the City of Durham

Mary Kelly Foy, Member of Parliament for City of Durham, today questioned the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, Matt Hancock MP, during his statement to the House updating Members on the Government’s COVID-19 response.

Appearing virtually, Mary questioned the Health Secretary on the connection between COVID-19 mortality rates and the levels of deprivation in society. Mary asked Matt Hancock to explain how the Government planned to reduce health inequalities to mitigate the immediate impact of coronavirus upon the North-East and as part of the UK’s long-term recovery from coronavirus.

Mary stated that coronavirus had further highlighted the effects of health inequalities in our society and that while the virus does not discriminate in who it infects, it is far more likely to have a greater risk to the health of the least well off in society.

This is supported by the Office for National Statistics (ONS) reporting earlier this month that the mortality rate for deaths involving COVID-19 in the most deprived areas of England was over twice as high as the least deprived areas. The ONS figures showed 55.1 deaths per 100,000 of the population in the most deprived areas compared with 25.3 deaths per 100,000 of the population in the least deprived areas.

This connection is particularly relevant to the North East due to the its high levels of deprivation, as well as having the highest coronavirus infection rate in the country, with R (the rate at which the virus transmits) believed to be close to one for the North-East. England’s Chief Medical Officer, Professor Chris Whitty, has previously said that if R rose above one then it could potentially result in a second wave of the virus.

Mary asked:

“Mr Speaker, the Office for National Statistics has reported that COVID-19 mortality rates in the most deprived areas of England are twice that of the least deprived. Once again, this virus has reminded us of the extreme health and social inequalities in our society.

Whilst it can affect anyone from any background, those from our poorest communities have the highest risk of severe illness and death.

Here in the North East, we have some of the highest levels of deprivation in the country, as well as the highest rates of infection.

Can the Secretary of State tell me what Government intend to do to reduce health inequalities, both during the COVID-19 lockdown and as part of our recovery from the impact of the virus?”

Matt Hancock responded:

“The honourable lady is absolutely right, and this is an incredibly important subject both, as she says, during the crisis and thereafter. We’ve got a study underway that Public Health England is conducting into the impact of all sorts of different conditions on the likelihood that COVID-19 will hit you hard. It is true that there is a link to levels of deprivation, in the same way that one of the strongest factors, other than age, is obesity and that needs to be investigated. And we have seen a bigger impact on people from minority ethnic backgrounds, all of these things need to be studied and levelling up and closing up that health inequality gap is an incredibly important part of the governments agenda for recovering from this terrible disease.”

You can watch the clip of Mary’s question below:


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