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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. 

Given our mission, and the complexity of health and healthcare, we could work on an almost infinite number of issues. But in order to be effective, we need to focus on the key challenges.

The RCP uses policy and campaigns priorities, chosen in consultation with RCP members and RCP Council, to guide and shape its external influencing work. Our current areas of focus are the medical workforce, person-centred integrated care, health inequality and research. We also work on policy and campaigns in Wales and we had a special focus on the climate crisis throughout 2021 leading up to the UN Climate Change Conference (COP26) in Glasgow.

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

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. The RCP priorities are being refreshed for 2022-2026.

Make sure the UK has a multiprofessional 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.

This is having a negative impact on doctors’ mental health and general wellbeing. They tell us that time away from direct clinical care to be involved in research, teaching, quality improvement and other work would improve their experience. But without more doctors to share the workload, they just don’t have the time.

In 2018 we published Double or quits: calculating how many more medical students we need, arguing that medical school places need to rise to 15,000 per year. In January 2021, we published a fully costed blueprint Double or quits: a blueprint for expanding medical school places, setting out how it can be done.

Throughout 2021 and early 2022, the RCP helped to convene the Strength In Numbers coalition of over 100 health and care organisations calling for the Health and Care Bill to include regular assessments of how many staff we will need now and in future to keep pace with demand. This amendment was debated until the penultimate stages of the bill – but was unfortunately not accepted into the final Act. We now await the refresh of Framework 15, and the NHS long-term workforce plan commissioned by the Department of Health and Social Care.

Make sure the UK takes an integrated and people-centred approach to health and care

Person-centred care means understanding what is important for a patient as a person, not just someone with a condition. The RCP brings together patients and doctors to develop support and practical guidance to help improve and embed person-centred care.

In 2021, we focused on the passage of the Health and Care Act 2022 which puts Integrated Care Systems (ICSs) on statutory footing. This legislation enables changes to the NHS that facilitate the implementation of the Long Term Plan. We will now look at how we can support members to successfully put this new national policy direction into practice on the ground. We have been sharing that with the NHS and our other partners as the Long Term Plan begins to be implemented.

Make sure government policies across the UK reduce health inequalities, particularly by focusing on preventing ill health

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), a coalition of organisations who have come together to campaign for a cross-government strategy to reduce health inequalities.

Throughout 2021 we worked with members of the IHA to make the case that the government should develop this as a priority, publishing a paper with member case studies. In September we also wrote to the prime minister for the third time about the strategy and in January 2022 supported a debate in parliament on cross-government action to reduce health inequalities. We’ll keep up this focus in 2022 ahead of the white paper on health disparities expected later this year.

The RCP is a founder member of Action on Smoking and Health, Alcohol Health Alliance, the Obesity Health Alliance and the UK Health Alliance on Climate Change. Through these alliances we collectively 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.  

In 2021, the RCP held its inaugural research summit. The second summit took place in February 2022 in partnership with the National Institute for Health and Care Research. This brought together senior stakeholders from government, NHS England and regulators, as well as patient and clinician representatives, to discuss how we can overcome the challenges facing researchers following the pandemic and what more can be done to embed research in clinical practice. We will continue to pursue our strategy to develop, deliver and drive research in the NHS, seeking to address the barriers to equality of access. 

You can find further information about our research strategy on the RCP research and innovation hub, that is also designed to support clinicians looking to become more involved in research. You can also find out more about how the RCP is developing skills, delivering changes to the research system and driving partnerships to support collaboration.