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Welcoming the Office for Health Improvement and Disparities

RCP responds to the creation of an Office for Health Improvement and Disparities.

Last week the government announced the creation of an Office for Health Improvement and Disparities (OHID). It will launch on 1 October and be co-headed by Dr Jeanelle de Gruchy, the new Deputy Chief Medical Officer for England, alongside Director General, Jonathan Marron.

The aim of the OHID, which will sit in the Department of Health and Social Care, will be to tackle health inequalities across the country. It will coordinate work with other government departments to reduce disparities and improve public health. The OHID is the new name for the Office for Health Promotion, which was announced in March 2021 alongside a government commitment to create a cross-government ministerial board on prevention.

The announcement follows widespread calls from the health sector and beyond for more government action on health inequality. In October 2020 the RCP convened the Inequalities in Health Alliance, which is calling for a cross-government strategy to tackle these disparities.

Andrew Goddard, president of the Royal College of Physicians, said: “After a year that has seen health inequalities brutally exposed, the remit of the Office for Health Improvement and Disparities (OHID) is very welcome. We are glad that the government has heard the calls and recognised the importance to the country of a healthier, more equal society.

“Health inequalities were a problem before COVID-19, with the gap in healthy life expectancy between the richest and poorest areas around 19 years. However, the pandemic has tragically demonstrated how these inequalities can have an impact in just a matter of weeks. Many deaths could have been prevented if there had been better levels of general health before the pandemic.

“But while the OHID will do much to improve health inequalities, we also need a cross-government strategy, led by and accountable to the prime minister. The OHID has a unique opportunity to begin levelling up the health of the population, but we need more than coordination of government work. If we are to address the root causes of health inequalities - such as poor housing, air quality and diet – we need strong political leadership to ensure that the good work of one department isn’t being undone by the unintended consequences of policy in another.

“The announcement of the OHID said it will ‘help inform a new cross-government agenda which will look to track the wider determinants of health and reduce disparities.’ We look forward to more detail about that agenda, and whether it will include the strategy we know is needed.”