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Our role in shaping health policy

‘Influencing the way that healthcare is designed and delivered’ is one of the Royal College of Physicians' (RCP's) three key strategic aims. The policy and campaigns team works toward that aim by engaging with the government, the NHS, our royal college partners and others.

The RCP uses policy and campaigns priorities, chosen in consultation with RCP members and RCP Council, to guide and shape its external influencing work. Given the complexity of health and healthcare, and the RCP’s mission, these priorities enable us to be effective by strategically focussing on key challenges.

The RCP’s policy and campaigns priorities were refreshed in 2022 following consultation. Our areas of focus are the medical workforce, health inequality, clinical research and sustainability and climate change. These priorities are not intended to be exhaustive, but will underpin the RCP’s third strategic aim: ‘Influencing the way that healthcare is designed and delivered’.

We also work on policy and campaigns in Wales and will seek to engage with the official COVID-19 inquiry as it gets underway. Our members are key to our policy and campaigns work and we have various ways of gathering their views. They include our annual census, other regular surveys, and being involved in our committees. Members can also contact us via policy@rcplondon.ac.uk about anything that they are currently facing or considering.

Our key work is explained below, and you can find out more about what we are currently working on by looking at our news page, blogs and parliamentary briefings and consultation responses.

Our policy and campaigns priorities 2023-2026

We use our knowledge of current developments in health and care, our members' knowledge and expertise, and our relationships with key partners to decide our influencing priorities. We keep them under constant review, shifting our focus as necessary. These priorities are due for review in 2026.

Make sure the UK has a medical workforce that meets the needs of patients 

Our population is ageing, an increasing number of people live with multiple health conditions and health inequality is growing. As a result, the NHS is treating more patients than ever before. But the supply of doctors, nurses and other clinicians has not kept up with rising patient demand. We need more doctors as part of a wider expansion of the health and care workforce.

We will campaign for an increase in the number of medical students and we will also make the case for publicly available data on the number of staff needed relative to patient demand. We will work with others to improve the experience of training and employment to improve retention and morale and to make the UK attractive and accessible to doctors and trainees from overseas. We will encourage more opportunities for participation in medicine and support work to tackle racism and other forms of discrimination in medicine. We will support the regulation of physician associates and promote the profession. We will promote better multidisciplinary team working and a safe, reflective learning culture.

Make sure UK policy reduces health inequalities by focusing on prevention

Our fellows and members are increasingly concerned that large swathes of the UK population are being left behind in terms of their health. In 2020 we established the Inequalities in Health Alliance (IHA), to campaign for a cross-government strategy to reduce health inequalities.

We will promote the principle that prevention is better than cure, and that many of the most effective preventative actions sit outside the NHS and government departments of health and social care. We will focus on air quality, obesity, sexual health, tobacco and alcohol as well as the social determinants of health that lead or contribute to ill health. We will continue to convene the IHA to make the case that we need a cross-government strategy to tackle these social determinants.

As a founder member of Action on Smoking and Health, Alcohol Health Alliance, the Obesity Health Alliance and the UK Health Alliance on Climate Change, the RCP works with these alliances to influence government, the NHS and others.

Make sure UK health policy is led by the latest research and innovation

The RCP is deeply committed to improving access to clinical research and supporting the integration of research into everyday care. We will promote the benefits of new technology and clinical research to improve patient outcomes and access to new treatments. We will make the case for protected time for research and support NHS organisations to facilitate clinical research. We will continue to lead in defining high-quality care and medical safety.

You can find the strategy on the RCP research and innovation hub, that is also designed to support clinicians looking to become more involved in research.

Make sure UK climate and sustainability policy protects population health 

Climate change is the biggest global threat to health and the need to act has never been clearer. From respiratory diseases to access to clean water, global warming is negatively affecting the health of people around the world. Throughout 2021, we had a special focus on the climate crisis leading up to the UN Climate Change Conference (COP26) in Glasgow.

We will make the case for ambitious government action to tackle climate change, recognising that it is the biggest long-term threat to health in the UK and globally. We will use our insight and expertise to support the NHS to deliver its net zero commitments. We will promote behaviour change – for example in terms of travel and fuels burnt at home – which reduces greenhouse gas emissions and improves public health, and will continue to campaign for better air quality across the UK. We will improve the knowledge of healthcare professionals about the health impacts of climate change.