The Health Summary is part of our Weekly COVID-19 Bulletin, sent every Thursday. You can sign up to receive your copy here.
This week saw the next phase of the Government’s Roadmap out of lockdown restrictions. As of Monday, the public is allowed to meet six people outdoors and do outdoor exercise. Speaking at the Downing Street Press Conference, the Prime Minister said that despite infections falling to the lowest number in six months, ‘we must proceed with caution’.
Vaccination hesitancy and uptake
While positive vaccine sentiment has increased to 94% in the latest period (17 to 21 March 2021), from 78% when the data were first collected (10 to 13 December 2020), there are higher levels of hesitancy among some groups, including young people (12%), Black or Black British (22%) and those living in the most deprived areas (12%).
Research from the Office for National Statistics published this week on the Covid-19 vaccine highlights the uptake across the population. It showed the percentage of people vaccinated was lower among all ethnic minority groups compared with the White British population; the lowest vaccination rates were observed among people identifying as Black African and Black Caribbean (58.8% and 68.7% respectively). Those living in deprived areas were also less likely to have taken up their offer of a vaccine. While people who have a disability also had lower rates of vaccination at 86.6%, compared with those who were non-disabled at 91.0%.
The NHS Confederation has argued that the results show there is ‘more work to do’. It has said that we need to ensure that the vaccine is equitable, and we need to overcome vaccine hesitancy, ‘as marginalisation clearly plays a major part in pushing uptake down.’
Poor mental health among emergency responders
Data from a survey of more than 250 staff and volunteers across police, fire and ambulance services in Wales has laid bare the scale of poor mental health within the emergency responder communities. The online survey found that mental health has worsened across 999 services, with ambulance staff worst affected.
Only one in three (33%) ambulance staff reported their current mental health as very good or good compared to two in five police (44%) and almost one in two (49%) survey respondents working within the fire service. Ambulance staff were the most likely (72 %) to say their mental health has worsened since the start of the coronavirus pandemic, compared to police (56%) or fire (61%).
The highest proportion of respondents saying they had poor mental health were within the ambulance service, at almost one in three (30%). This compares to just under one in four (22%) respondents from the police service and just under one in ten (11%) within the fire service who rated their mental health as poor currently.
Mental health support
Over the weekend, the Government announced a £500m Mental Health Recovery Action Plan to respond to the impact of the pandemic. The plan will support the expansion and improvement of mental health services, including NHS talking therapies and community services. The funding forms part of the Government’s plans to level up mental health and wellbeing across the country.
Announcing the plan, the Health and Social Care Secretary Matt Hancock said: ‘As part of our response to this global pandemic we not only want to tackle the public health threat of coronavirus but ensure our clinicians have the resources to deal with the impact on people’s mental health.’
Responding to the Mental Health Recovery Action Plan, Paul Farmer, chief executive of Mind said: ‘As we continue to deal with the effects of the pandemic and the economic recession, the true scale of the nation’s mental health is only beginning to emerge. It could be many months or even years before we fully recognise the pandemic’s toll on our collective wellbeing. That’s why we welcome the UK Government’s recovery plan, which will need to see departments working more closely than ever to deliver on its promises given the multiple social challenges we face.’
Office for Health Promotion
The Government has announced more information on its reform to public health, following its decision to dissolve Public Health England last year. The new Office for Health Promotion, which will lead the country’s efforts to improve and level up the health of the nation, it set to be established in the Autumn.
The Office’s remit will be to systematically tackle the top preventable risk factors causing death and ill health in the UK, by designing, implementing and tracking delivery policy across Government. It will focus on areas including, obesity and nutrition, mental health across all ages, physical activity, sexual health, alcohol and tobacco.
Announcing the plans, the Prime Minister said: ‘Covid-19 has demonstrated the importance of physical health in our ability to tackle such illnesses, and we must continue to help people to lead healthy lives so that we can all better prevent and fight illnesses.’
The Health Foundation has welcomed the cross- departmental approach to address the wide determinants of health. However, it raised concern about funding the new Office and highlighted that this year’s public health grant allocations represented a 24% cut in real terms per capita – equivalent to £1bn – compared to 2015/16.
It said: ‘The pandemic makes it all more urgent that we prioritise keeping people healthy. The Government faces a crucial window of opportunity in which to create a public health system equipped to take on the major health issues facing the country including rising obesity, a mental health crisis and a growing gap between the health of the richest and poorest’.
The King’s Fund welcomed clarity on public health reform, but argued: ‘today’s announcement does not add up to a compelling vision for creating a healthier society and needs to be swiftly followed by a clear plan for improving the health of the nation.’