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Our role in shaping health policy

The Royal College of Physicians' (RCP's) mission is to drive improvements in health and healthcare. One way we do that is by working with the government, the NHS, our royal college partners and others to influence the health and care system. 

Given our mission, and the complexity of health and healthcare, we could work on an almost infinite number of issues. But in order to be effective, we need to focus on the key challenges. 

We use our knowledge of current developments in health and care, our members' knowledge and expertise, and our relationships with key partners to decide our influencing priorities. We also keep them under constant review, shifting our focus as necessary. 

Our key work is explained below, and by looking at our news page, blogs and consultation responses, you can find out more about what we are currently working on. Our members are key to this work and we have various ways of gathering their views. They include our annual census, our regular surveys on issues such as the impact of COVID-19, and being involved in our committees. They can also contact us via policy@rcplondon.ac.uk about anything that they are currently facing or considering.

Our influencing priorities 

Our current areas of focus are the medical workforce, person-centred integrated care, health inequality and research. We also work on policy and campaigns in Wales and the impact of Brexit. Ahead of the UN Climate Change Conference (COP26) in November, we will have a special focus this year on the climate crisis, looking at what members can do to play their part in reducing the biggest global threat to health. 

Make sure the UK has a multiprofessional medical workforce that meets the needs of patients 

Our population is ageing, an increasing number of people live with multiple health conditions and health inequality is growing. As a result, the NHS is treating more patients than ever before. But the supply of doctors, nurses and other clinicians has not kept up with rising patient demand. 

This is having a negative impact on doctors’ mental health and general wellbeing. They tell us that time away from direct clinical care to be involved in research, teaching, quality improvement and other work would improve their experience. But without more doctors to share the workload, they just don’t have the time. 

As a result, in 2018 we published Double or quits: calculating how many more medical students we need, arguing that medical school places need to rise to 15,000 per year. In January 2021, we followed that up with a fully costed blueprint Double or quits: a blueprint for expanding medical school places, setting out how it can be done. 

We are now working with our royal college partners and others to influence the government. In April 2021 we published RCP view on NHS workforce planning: the case for transparency and accountability ahead of the publication of the health and care bill.

Make sure the UK takes an integrated and people-centred approach to health and care 

Person-centred care means understanding what is important for a patient as a person, not just someone with a condition. The RCP brings together patients and doctors to develop support and practical guidance to help improve and embed person-centred care. 

In 2019 we published a guide to integrated care and the NHS Long Term Plan which outlines how doctors can best influence their local integrated care system (ICS). It highlights some best practice and case studies, which we hope provide food for thought as to how clinicians may approach delivering more integrated health and care. 

Since then, we have been working with our members to understand how they think the integration of health and care services needs to proceed. We have been sharing that with the NHS and our other partners as the Long Term Plan begins to be implemented. 

In 2021, we are focused on legislation we expect to be brought forward in the first half of the year. It will enable changes to the NHS that will facilitate the implementation of the Long Term Plan, particularly integration. We will also be looking at how we can support members to successfully put policy into practice on the ground.  

Make sure government policies across the UK reduce health inequalities, particularly by focusing on preventing ill health 

The RCP is a founder member of Action on Smoking and Health, Alcohol Health Alliance, the Obesity Health Alliance and the UK Health Alliance on Climate Change. Through these alliances we collectively influence government, the NHS and others. 

Our fellows and members are increasingly concerned that large swathes of the UK population are being left behind in terms of their health. In 2020 we established the Inequalities in Health Alliance (IHA), a coalition of organisations who have come together to campaign for a cross-government strategy to reduce health inequalities. In 2021 we will be working with them to convince the government to develop this as a priority. 

Make sure UK health policy is led by the latest research and innovation 

The RCP is deeply committed to improving access to clinical research and supporting the integration of research into everyday care. In 2021 we will pursue our strategy to develop, deliver and drive research in the NHS, seeking to address the barriers to equality of access. 

You can find the strategy on the RCP research and innovation hub, that is also designed to support clinicians looking to become more involved in research. You can also find out more about how the RCP is developing skills, delivering changes to the research system and driving partnerships to support collaboration.