The RCP has responded to the launch of the Major Conditions Strategy with a statement from its president.
Dr Sarah Clarke, president of the Royal College of Physicians, said:
“Many of our members are experts in the diseases covered by the government’s Major Conditions Strategy so we look forward to contributing to it.
“We are pleased to see the government restating its commitments to narrow the gap in healthy life expectancy (HLE) by 2030 and increase it by five years by 2035. We and the member organisations of the Inequalities in Health Alliance (IHA) had been concerned by reports that the Health Disparities White Paper (HDWP) had been scrapped.
“If the Major Conditions Strategy is a replacement for the HDWP, we hope that the Department for Health and Social Care will still work with the ‘whole of government to consider health disparities at each stage at which they arise…[including]…the wider determinants of health’, as it said it would in the Levelling Up White Paper.
“A cross-government focus on health inequality is vital. While the government recognises that the diseases in this strategy contribute significantly to total disability adjusted life years in England, focusing on individual behaviours and access to services alone will not be enough to close the almost 20 year gap in HLE between the most and least deprived people in England.
“Just under a third (31%) of RCP members told us in December last year that they had seen more people with illness due to their living conditions in the previous three months. To address health inequality and reduce the gap in HLE, we must tackle the root causes of ill health such as poor housing, food quality, communities and place, employment, racism and discrimination, transport and air quality.
“The IHA, convened by the Royal College of Physicians, has long called for a cross-government strategy to reduce health inequalities - one that looks at every policy lever across government to tackle the factors that make people ill in the first place. Without this, our efforts to increase HLE will fall short of the ambition that is required.
“Ill health and long-term sickness is increasing in the general population. This has a significant impact on the public purse, with health inequalities estimated to account for almost a fifth (£4.8bn) of the NHS budget.
“Cross-government work on health inequalities must be a part of the Major Conditions Strategy for it to be effective. We look forward to working with government to ensure that this is put into practice.”