The Royal College of Physicians (RCP) has published a new policy paper reiterating calls for a cross-government strategy to reduce health inequalities.
Last year, the RCP published a position paper setting out the case for a cross-government strategy to reduce health inequalities to address avoidable differences in health access and outcomes between certain groups.
Since then, the link between poor health and the environments people live in has become clearer than ever. The paper published today - ‘RCP view on health inequalities: the continued case for a cross-government strategy’ - outlines how health inequalities in the UK are continuing to widen and how the rising cost of living, and energy prices, gives further cause for concern for the health of the population.
New findings from a survey commissioned by the RCP in August 2022 show that due to the rising cost of energy bills, over two thirds of people (69%) feel more worried about their ability to stay warm and healthy at home this winter compared to last winter.
When asked what they would do if a member of their household needed to use more heating than usual this winter to avoid ill health, only 22% of people said they would heat their home as necessary because they could afford the cost.
12% of people said they had previously been advised by a health professional to keep their home warm in order to reduce the likelihood of becoming unwell or making an existing health condition worse.
The cost-of-living crisis is another reminder that our health is a product of our environment. While it may seem like health inequalities are the sole remit of the NHS and Department of Health and Social Care, health and social care services can only try and cure illnesses created by the environments people live in. To prevent ill health in the first place, action must be taken on issues such as poor housing, food quality, communities and place, employment, racism and discrimination, transport and air pollution.
The Levelling Up White Paper committed to a Health Disparities White Paper (HDWP) in February 2022. The White Paper is a vital opportunity to lay out clear-cross government action, including an explicit cross-government strategy. But the new secretary of state Dr Therese Coffey’s first speech to parliament did not reference health inequalities or the HDWP and it was not included in the Department’s new ‘Our Plan for Patients’.
On Friday 30 September 2022, over 155 member organisations of the IHA wrote to the new secretary of state for health and social care calling for the commitment to publish the Health Disparities White Paper to be maintained and for the white paper to commit to a cross-government strategy to reduce health inequalities.
The Levelling Up white paper also committed to narrow the gap in Healthy Life Expectancy (HLE) between local areas where it is highest and lowest by 2030 and re-stated the commitment to increase HLE by 5 years by 2035.
The RCP is calling for:
• A cross-government strategy to reduce health inequalities, underpinned by the necessary funding settlement, with clear measurable goals that considers the role of every department and every available policy lever in tackling health disparities.
• The government to maintain the Levelling Up white paper commitment to narrow the gap in healthy life expectancy (HLE) between local areas where it is highest and lowest by 2030 and increase HLE by five years by 2035.
• The government to maintain the commitment to publishing a Health Disparities white paper by the end of 2022, with clear cross-government action including a cross-government strategy to reduce health inequalities.