Research conducted by Imperial College London in partnership with Philips UK has found that the COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted existing healthcare inequalities in the UK.

In addition, the challenges posed to the NHS during the pandemic show the need for the rapid acceleration of community diagnostic hubs (CDHs) to tackle healthcare inequalities and alleviate pressures on the healthcare system.

The new report was commissioned to develop a ‘clear evidence base’ detailing the healthcare inequalities in the UK.

It found that the effects of COVID-19 on the NHS capacity could affect the health service’s ability to diagnose and treat patients for years to come if change is not supported now.

The researches recommend that immediate action should be taken to support the NHS in re-introducing non-COVID-19 services while also caring for COVID-19 patients.

Recommendations include introducing a move of diagnostic and treatment services from secondary care to primary care, by establishing CDHs.

This could also help to tackle the issue of healthcare inequalities by moving diagnostic services closer to the community, the researchers found.

The COVID-19 pandemic has also highlighted the urgent need to optimise data infrastructure in the UK, as well as the need for improved data sharing processes between healthcare providers.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has added additional strains on the health and social care system and exacerbated the challenges faced by deprived communities,” said Dr Leigh Warren, clinical research fellow at Imperial College London.

“Environmental issues, such as poor housing, air pollution and climate change, place additional burdens on vulnerable groups during and beyond the COVID-19 pandemic – and it’s vital we take the steps needed now to address these. Solutions require investment in health, not just healthcare.

“With patients, providers, government, industry and other stakeholders committed to change, we can work towards enhancing the NHS and improving people’s lives,” he added.