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Parliament debates health inequalities

The RCP, as convenor of the Inequalities in Health Alliance (IHA), has used a parliamentary debate to highlight the need for a cross-government strategy to reduce avoidable differences in health between different parts of the country and within or between different communities. 

Labour MP Peter Dowd led the debate on the Office for Health Improvement and Disparities(OHID) and health inequalities: the first time backbenchers have had the chance to debate OHID at length since it was formally created last October.  

The IHA issued a briefing to MPs ahead of the debate drawing attention to its call for a cross-government strategy. Many MPs spoke to this, with Peter Dowd drawing on a case study from the RCP’s paper The case for a cross-government strategy of a woman who was admitted to hospital severely malnourished and dehydrated because she had been skipping meals in order to feed her son.  

Other MPs raised the fact that the much-awaited Levelling Up White Paper has not yet been published. The Minister confirmed it will be published in the coming weeks. Its publication was delayed last year. 

The substantive response from Public Health Minister Maggie Throup MP reiterated that ‘covid has shone a light’ on the poor underlying health of some groups and ‘the depth of health disparities’ and the impact on society and the economy.  

It was welcome that the Minister accepted ‘many of the factors most critical to good physical and mental health are the responsibility of partners beyond the health service’ and confirmed that the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care is chairing the new Health Promotion Taskforce.  It is helpful to have this on the parliamentary record alongside its aim ‘to work together actively on the most important health issues and agree new ways to address them collectively’. 

On the Office for Health Improvement and Disparities, the Minister said OHID will aim ‘to systematically tackle the top preventable risk factors for poor health by looking actively at the evidence on health disparities and the ways in which we can go further to address them.’ The IHA will now write to the Minister on these points and continue to push for detail on which factors OHID is considering and how the Taskforce will work across government to address them. 

We continue to believe that the government’s work to reduce health inequalities will be strengthened with an explicit cross-government strategy to reduce health inequalities, involving all government departments, led by and accountable to the prime minister.  

You can read more about the Inequalities in Health Alliance and apply to be a member here