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Royal Colleges unite to tackle health inequity

NHS must take action to tackle social causes of ill health says Marmot

Louise Prime

Monday, 18 March 2013

GP leaders have joined forces with other doctors and healthcare professionals in calling for concerted action to tackle health inequalities. They say that considering patients’ social and economic circumstances as well as their medical history could, in the long run, save the NHS more than £5.5bn a year.

The Royal College of GPs and 20 other Royal Colleges and organisations have made their pledge in a report on tackling the social and economic causes of ill health, published this morning by the Institute of Health Equity, based at University College London and led by Professor Sir Michael Marmot. The report said that because NHS staff see and understand how patients’ socio-economic circumstances affect their health, and are highly trusted, the NHS has “a unique opportunity to support and improve their patients’ social and economic situations”.

Professor Marmot said: “The report and statements from health professional organisations make clear that action on the social determinants of health should be a core part of health professionals’ business – it improves clinical outcomes, and saves money and time in the longer term.

“In partnership with others in the wider society, health professionals can help reduce socially unjust and avoidable inequalities to ensure everyone has the same opportunity to live as healthy a life as the very best off.”

The RCGP has committed to taking health inequalities into account across all areas of its activities and policy, including embedding it into the curriculum, and highlighting the need for GPs to be involved in community leadership, public health and leading integrated teams as a means to reduce health inequalities.

One of the College’s clinical priorities will be to focus on people from socially excluded groups who have problems accessing primary health care services – asylum seekers and refugees, homeless and vulnerably housed people, travelling communities, offenders and sex workers. Its vision for general practice in 2022, due out soon, will emphasise the need to tackle health inequalities by improving access to GPs in deprived areas and reaching out in new ways to vulnerable populations.

Dr Clare Gerada (pictured), RCGP chair, said: “With over one million consultations every day, GPs are at the frontline of their communities and our practices are a natural hub for person-centred care. We act as the main interface with other services, including secondary and social care and voluntary organisations, and we want to do more to develop services that will improve the quality of life for our patients.

“But health inequalities cannot be addressed by health professionals alone and must be challenged with a joined-up focus on housing, education and work, and the development of healthy and sustainable communities. Through collaboration and co-operation, we can make the necessary changes to ensure that people live healthier lives and longer lives, and that they have access to the care and services they need and deserve throughout their lives.”

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