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GPs must address inequality

"Social determinants of health should be part of everday practice"

OnMedica Staff

Friday, 11 June 2010

The Royal College of Physicians has this week urged all doctors to address social disadvantage.

In a new report from the RCP in partnership with leading health organisations, doctors are encouraged to make social determinants of health part of their everyday medical practice, reducing where they can the inequitable burden of disease.

The report: ‘How doctors can close the gap: tackling the social determinants of health through culture change, advocacy and education’ identifies how doctors can take account of social inequalities in every area of their work, calling for changes to medical practice and consultations and encouraging doctors to use their powerful voices to advocate health equality.

Recommendations include refocusing of attitudes and resources in healthcare towards prevention rather than treatment of ill-health. Doctors are also asked to identify opportunities to help patients from disadvantaged backgrounds to manage their health (for example by promoting screening services).

Other recommendations include encouraging patients to undertake healthy activities and for doctors to lobby local authorities for resources and green space to support this.

The report also states that undergraduate and postgraduate education should be restructured to make social aspects of the courses more engaging.

Professor Ian Gilmore, president of the Royal College of Physicians, said: “At present, many doctors and other health professionals do their best to treat the patient in front of them, but they do not always look beyond the symptoms presented, and address the patients’ social and economic background. This becomes a vicious cycle, where people are treated for an illness, go back into the community and fall ill again, because doctors have not been able to address the reason they were unwell in the first place.”

Professor Steve Field, chairman of the Royal College of General Practitioners, said: “It’s shocking that we are in 2010, yet the health and life expectancy of our population are still largely determined by whether we are rich or poor - and that the divide between the two seems to be getting wider.  GPs, more than any other health professionals, are in the privileged position of working at the heart of communities and being able to provide care to patients throughout their lifetime.

"We have a unique insight into the lives of our patients and are already making good progress in helping people live healthier lives and preventing them becoming ill, rather than trying to patch them up once they are ill.  But we can all do more and this report ups the ante."

The report has been organised in partnership with the Royal College of General Practitioners, Royal College of Psychiatrists, Faculty of Public Health, National Heart Forum, and the NHS Sustainable Development Unit.

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