24th August 2020 • Emma Cooper

Long standing health inequalities have undoubtedly worsened during the Coronavirus pandemic and one local Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG) has proposed a potentially transformative plan to tackle the problem and save lives.

Bristol, North Somerset and South Gloucestershire CCG is proposing to address these health inequalities by moving patients with learning disabilities or severe mental illness up the waiting lists at the expense of those with ‘less urgent needs.’

Dr Peter Brindle, the Medical Director for Clinical Effectiveness has said that restarting services after lockdown had led to a need to make new priorities. He said the CCG had been considering ways to address inequalities, even it meant doing something radical. He said:

‘We’re aiming to get all our services up and running as before but we can’t do that straight away. We have to do some prioritisation because we can’t give everything to everybody as we did before.

‘We have relatively limited resources so we have to give them to the people who will benefit most. There are certain population groups that we knew before Covid-19 were very badly affected through health inequalities but the pandemic has made it worse.’

The Care Quality Commission says that the death rate for people with learning disabilities has more than doubled nationally in recent months – an increase of 134% compared with before the pandemic.

Dr Brindle said the ‘incredibly shocking’ statistics compounded what they already knew.

‘People with learning difficulties die a lot earlier than people in the rest of the population, with about 15-18 years difference.

‘We’re absolutely determined to look at any way we can redress this balance.’

Longstanding guidance from the Royal College of Surgeons, used across the NHS, is based on a first come, first served system, but recent guidelines have asked health trusts to address inequalities in care.

‘We are the only place that has been planning this as far as I’m aware,’ said Dr Brindle.

‘There is no template or best practice to take from somewhere else. It’s a case of working up the proposals ourselves.

‘It’s not queue jumping. It’s ensuring that people who need care most get it and those with less urgent needs may have to wait a little longer.’

CCG chief executive Julia Ross said the plans would need the agreement of the region’s hospitals and medics.

Bristol, North Somerset and South Gloucestershire CCG has been running listening events in partnership with local voluntary and community groups to help understand peoples’ experiences of navigating healthcare services during the coronavirus pandemic. Dr Peter Brindle said:

‘There is a lot more to do, and one of the most important things is that we continue to listen to people’s experiences and ensure that developments are informed at every step by the views of our population.’

Read more about how the plans are coming together here.