Professor Sir Michael Marmot, lead author of a key report on health inequality in England, will present an online lecture entitled “social justice, health equity, and COVID-19”.

During the “Richard Scott Lecture”, Sir Michael will discuss the relationship between inequality and poor health (the social gradient), and the approaches to tackling the health gap in the UK, including in England and Scotland.

Sir Michael was lead author of Health Equity in England: The Marmot Review 10 Years On (Marmot 2020).

Marmot 2020 found that improvements to life expectancy have stalled (and declined for the poorest 10% of women) and that the health gap has grown between wealthy and deprived areas.

The report also concluded that location matters – as living in a deprived area of the North East of England is worse for a person’s health than living in a similarly deprived area in London.

The Richard Scott Lecture will be hosted online by the Royal College of Physicians of Edinburgh in association with the University of Edinburgh and the Royal College of General Practitioners, on Thursday 2 July at 6.30pm.

The Royal College of Physicians of Edinburgh will live stream the lecture, accessible from any part of the world, with no requirement for pre-registration.

Also contributing to the lecture will be Professor Angela Thomas (President of the Royal College of Physicians of Edinburgh), Dr Carey Lunan (Chair of the Royal College of General Practitioners in Scotland), Professor Jeremy Hughes (Director of Education at the Royal College of Physicians of Edinburgh), and Professor David Weller (Professor of General Practice at the University of Edinburgh).

The Royal College of Physicians of Edinburgh is continuing to call on government across the UK to pursue policies which address the social factors which cause ill health, and improve circumstances which lead to poor health or social exclusion, including disability.

Commenting ahead of the lecture, Sir Michael said:

Taking action to reduce health inequalities is a matter of social justice, and in developing strategies for tackling health inequalities we need to confront the social gradient in health not just the difference between the worst off and everybody else. 

In my research, I discovered clear evidence that national public health policies make a difference and that much can be done in cities, towns and local areas.

But policies and interventions must not be confined to the health care system - they need to address the conditions in which people are born, grow, live, work and age. 

The evidence shows that economic circumstances are important but are not the only drivers of health inequalities.

Tackling the health gap will take action, based on sound evidence, across the whole of society.

Professor Angela Thomas OBE, President of the Royal College of Physicians of Edinburgh said:

We are really excited that Sir Michael will be joining us, for what will be an interesting evening of discussion and debate on a vital public health topic.

Sir Michael is one of the UK’s top public health experts, so we’re delighted to welcome him to the College, albeit remotely.

His work has highlighted the impact that income, social circumstances and geography can have on a person’s health and wellbeing.

The global pandemic has regrettably made health outcomes even worse for the most deprived communities in the UK.

It is important to investigate why this is happening, and what can be done about it – I suspect we’ll have lots of questions about this on the night, during the Q&A session.

David Weller, Professor of General Practice at the University of Edinburgh, said:

This year, the University of Edinburgh, Royal College of Physicians of Edinburgh and Royal College of General Practitioners have teamed up  for a very special event – the 2020 Richard Scott Lecture.

This annual lecture honours the memory of Richard Scott, who established Edinburgh’s Department of General Practice – and became the first Professor of General Practice in the world.

We are delighted that Sir Michael has agreed to give this lecture; his detailed analyses of health inequalities in Britain have helped to shape modern health care, and made us aware of the complex mechanisms which underpin inequality.

There is much that primary care can do to reduce health inequalities, and we look forward to hearing about Sir Michael’s insights on this topic, accumulated over a long and dedicated career.

Dr Carey Lunan, “Deep End” GP and Chair of the Royal College of GPs in Scotland said:

Scotland has the unenviable status of being the “sick man of Europe”, with the poorest people in our society living not just shorter, but also sicker lives. 

The COVID-19 pandemic has disproportionately affected the old, the frail, the poor and those from minority ethnic backgrounds, and has shed light on pre-existing health inequalities, with death rates from COVID-19 twice as high in the least affluent areas. 

Both the medical professions and our politicians have a role to play in ensuring that equity principles underpin all our recovery planning. 

If our NHS is not at its best where it is needed most, then health inequalities will continue to worsen.