BRADFORD has been given a chance to re-design its system and create “real change”, a health chief has said.

Dr James Thomas, clinical chair at NHS Bradford District and Craven Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG) said recovery from the pandemic cannot just be “patching up cracks” in a meeting on health inequalities and lessons from Covid-19.

Held by Bradford Foundation Trust and the Race Equality Network, the forum saw leading voices in research, science and charitable organisations share their perspectives on the past 12 months.

It comes one year after Bradford Royal Infirmary opened its first Covid-19 ward. Staff paid tribute to those who lost their lives as well as colleagues who have worked tirelessly to save lives.

Dr Thomas has been working on the frontline himself as a GP and in Covid ‘red hubs’ and vaccination centres.

He said the way Covid-19 has “exacerbated” pre-existing health inequalities in Bradford calls for change, expressing the need for local leaders, organisations and the NHS to be “bold”.

He presented data from Ordnance Survey which shows a map extending from the inner city areas up to Wharfedale.

“It is so powerful,” he said.

“We often hear about inequalities and specifically health inequalities but sometimes we don’t often see the starkness of this.

“I start a journey from Burley-In-Wharfedale where the average life expectancy of a male is 84 years old and his healthy life expectancy is 71 years. I then catch the 622 bus, taking in the beautiful sights of Bingley and its locks, onto Shipley and its wonderful mills, Manningham and its parks and architecture and I arrive at my final destination in the city centre of Bradford.

“Just on that simple trip to shop in Bradford, I’m passing through communities where the life expectancy of that male drops by 10 years and the healthy life expectancy drops by 20 years.

“The NHS cannot deal with it by itself.”

The GP explained how sanitation, housing, social benefits and education all have roles in our life expectancy as well as the rising issue of loneliness, increased stress, homelessness and obesity. But now, alongside the pandemic, life expectancy is now “stalling” further.

Dr Thomas said: “We know that Covid-19 takes hold of poor areas and it lingers and spreads. Covid-19 has changed us all but it has exacerbated what we already know.

“We can learn from many of these areas.

“A lot of this will come down to policy making and whether society is ready to change to tackle some of these significant societal issues. It shouldn’t be about patching up cracks.

“This is a chance to look at real change to ensure we strengthen our education system, care is integrated as we act as one to innovate and design our system in a different way.

“It is a time for us to build back a fairer Bradford and act as one.

“During Covid, we’ve sometimes been bold in doing things because it’s right. We can’t go back to that. There will be an element of pushing back. We just can’t allow that to happen.”

Meanwhile Olivia Joseph, a research fellow at the Bradford Institute for Health Research, said the psychological impact of the pandemic will need to be assessed for South African and other 'BAME' groups.

The researcher referenced how many families were facing mental health struggles, having not grieved and prayed in public together in times of loss and experienced meaningful cultural traditions. This was particularly felt by the elderly members of the community.

"I know that this resonates with a number of different ethnic minority communities as well," she said.

Ms Joseph added: "We all know that the investigations into racial inequities experienced in society existed before the pandemic across multiple sectors - housing, the economy, policing, with subsequent reports and recommendations to try and improve the living and working conditions for minority communities that go on to collect dust on the shelf."

She has called for reports and research as we slowly come out of the pandemic to be precisely focused on each community in the 'BAME' umbrella, helping organisations and services to work more effectively with those disproportionately affected by deaths and pre-existing socioeconomic issues.