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Last Updated: Tuesday, 20 November 2007, 11:08 GMT
NHS 'fails' deprived communities
Patients in poorer areas spent less time with their GP
The NHS is failing to deliver in poor areas, a study of general practices in the west of Scotland has found.

Patients had a greater number of psychological problems, more long-term illnesses and a wider variety of chronic health problems.

Consultations were shorter than in affluent areas and doctors reported being under greater stress.

The University of Glasgow study looked at 26 practices and questioned more than 3,000 patients and their doctors.

The study coincided with the annual report from Scotland's Chief Medical Officer Dr Harry Burns.

He said more action was needed to narrow the health gap between rich and poor areas.

The University of Glasgow research compared consultations in typical practices, serving both affluent and poor populations.

The system is coping but it is not succeeding
Professor Graham Watt
University of Glasgow

For patients with psychological problems in poor areas, seeing a doctor was less useful than for similar cases in better-off places.

The study found: "The increased burden of ill health... in socio-economically deprived areas results in high demands on primary care and is associated with poorer access to care, less time spent with the doctor and higher GP stress."

Researchers described the study as a landmark.

Professor Graham Watt, expert in general practice and primary care, said: "The system is coping but it is not succeeding.

"The NHS should be seen at its best in helping the neediest patients, but... that is not the case.

"Despite a decade of political rhetoric about addressing inequalities in health care the NHS has still not squared up to this problem."

Task force

The study was led by Dr Stewart Mercer, of the department of general practice at the University of Glasgow, and was published in US journal Annals Of Family Medicine.

Dr Euan Paterson, who works in Govan, Glasgow, said it was time to find solutions.

Poor health has underlying causes involving education, housing, planning, employment and the economy
Shona Robison
Minister for Public Health

"A thorny issue might be about redistribution of healthcare staff," he said.

"That one is not going to be popular if you don't live in a deprived area.

"The people who need most healthcare are likely to get less healthcare.

"Perhaps we need to think about having more doctors and more nurses in deprived areas."

Minister for Public Health Shona Robison said health in Scotland was improving, but not fast enough in the poorest communities.

Ms Robison said: "Tackling health inequalities must be more than what the NHS can do for people.

"Poor health has underlying causes involving education, housing, planning, employment and the economy.

"I am chairing a ministerial task force on health inequalities which will refresh thinking across government on the best approaches to tackling health inequalities."

The task force first met in October and will report to ministers next May.

The minister said work was also ongoing to target resources where they are needed and ensure services are easier for the public to use.

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