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15/09/21

15 September 2021

RCP view on health inequalities: a call to action for a cross-government strategy

RCP View On Health Inequalities

The Royal College of Physicians (RCP) brought together the Inequalities in Health Alliance (IHA) and launched its campaign for a cross-government strategy to reduce health inequalities in October 2020. Three years on, there is an even greater need for bold action to tackle the unfair and avoidable differences in health across the population.

Over the last year, general levels of ill health in the population have become increasingly visible in the labour market and the rising cost of living has continued to have an impact on health. A survey of RCP members published in January 2023 found that just under a third (31%) of physicians had seen more people with illness as a result of their living conditions in the three months prior.

Without bold action, ill health in the population is likely to grow. Recent projections suggest that by 2040, the number of people living with major illness in England – such as more severe cases of cancer, diabetes and kidney disease – will increase by 2.5 million. This is a projected 37% increase in the number of people living with a major condition – almost 1 in 5 adults.

With waiting lists in England at their highest point since records began, a clear plan to reduce future health inequalities and avoidable illness, and therefore avoidable demand for the NHS, is needed. The new RCP position paper published today – ‘RCP view on health inequalities: a call to action for a cross-government strategy’ – restates the call for a cross-government strategy to reduce health inequalities.

The best way to improve health is to focus on the factors that shape it. To truly reduce health inequalities, we need to tackle the factors that make people ill in the first place – from poor housing, air quality, and the marketing of food and alcohol or the availability of tobacco, to employment (including how much money you have), racism and discrimination, and transport. It will take coordinated and collective efforts from all parts of government to tackle this issue.

The RCP is calling for:

  • A cross-government strategy to reduce health inequalities that:
    • considers the role of every government department and every available policy lever in tackling health disparities and the wider determinants of health
    • has clear measurable goals and metrics to measure progress
    • is led by, and has accountability to, the prime minister
    • is underpinned by the necessary funding settlement.
  • The government to maintain a commitment to publishing the full report of the Major Conditions Strategy in 2024 and for that strategy to include a cross-government strategy to reduce health inequalities.
  • Political parties to prioritise tackling health inequalities and to commit to a cross-government strategy for tackling health inequalities at the next general election.