The Inequalities in Health Alliance (IHA), made up of nearly 200 organisations, have produced a position paper using real life stories of how people’s health is damaged by social factors such as poor housing.
Over 90 senior representatives of the IHA have written to the Prime Minister calling for an explicit cross-government health inequalities strategy, with clear measurable goals, that considers the role of every department and every available policy lever in tackling health disparities.
Formed in October 2020, members of the IHA represent patients, doctors, nurses, social care professionals, pharmacists, local authorities and others, who have heard countless stories about the impact of non-clinical factors on the health of people across the country.
The stories in The case for a cross-government strategy include:
- An extremely malnourished and dehydrated patient, eventually admitted to hospital with sepsis, regularly missing meals so that she was able to feed her teenage son and afraid to call her GP for fear that he would be ‘taken into care’.
- A clinic providing bus passes because otherwise patients’ health deteriorated because they could not afford to attend for regular monitoring or treatment.
- A patient whose asthma worsened when his landlord refused to fix mould in his private rented accommodation and instead evicted him.
- A patient with obesity and diabetes who ate all his meals in fried chicken shops because he and his family lived in a grossly overcrowded apartment with no kitchen.
Cross-government strategy to reduce health inequalities
The Alliance says it has been ‘encouraged’ by commitments such as the Office for Health Improvement & Disparities, Levelling Up agenda and the cross-government ministerial board on prevention which all hold ‘great potential to be the catalyst we need to tackle health inequalities’.
In the letter, the IHA asks for this work to be underpinned and strengthened with a cross-government strategy to reduce health inequalities that is led by, and accountable to, the prime minister.
Before Covid-19, health inequalities were estimated to cost the UK between £31 billion and £33 billion each year in lost productivity and £20 billion to £32 billion in lost tax revenue and higher benefit payments. These costs to the public purse will continue to grow without action, whereas tackling the causes of health inequalities would not only enable more people to live longer and healthier lives but also reduce future pressures on the NHS. The IHA wants recovery from Covid-19 to be a turning point for the health of the nation.
Andrew Goddard, president of the Royal College of Physicians, says: “Covid-19 acted as a flag to unite behind. Now that we are emerging from the worst phases of the pandemic, we need a new flag. Reducing health inequalities is that flag because they have never been as big in modern times and the need to reduce them never more apparent.”