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RCP view on health inequalities: the case for a cross-government strategy

The RCP has published a position paper setting out why we need an explicit cross-government strategy to reduce health inequalities to improve population health and address avoidable differences in health access and outcomes between certain groups.

Health inequality was a problem before COVID-19 – with a gap in healthy life expectancy between the richest and poorest areas of around 19 years – but the pandemic has tragically demonstrated how these inequalities can have an impact in just a matter of weeks.

The RCP’s new paper on health inequalities - ‘The case for a cross-government strategy’ – looks at a series of case studies which demonstrate how health inequalities affect people’s lives, and makes the case that progress will only be made by looking beyond the role of the Department of Health and Social Care and the NHS. 

The Royal College of Physicians (RCP) convenes the Inequalities in Health Alliance (IHA), which first called for a cross-government strategy to reduce health inequalities when it launched in October 2020.

Since then, the government has made several promising commitments that signal a move towards a more joined-up approach to reducing health inequality. The Office for Health Improvement and Disparities (OHID), the cross-government ministerial board on prevention and the Levelling Up white paper all hold great potential to be a catalyst to tackle health inequalities.

The RCP believes the government must now take the next step to strengthen and underpin this work with an explicit cross-government strategy to reduce health inequalities, involving all government departments, led by and accountable to the prime minister.

While it may seem that health inequality is a matter for the Department of Health and Social Care or the NHS, health and social care services can only try and cure the ailments created by the environments people live in. To prevent ill health in the first place, action must be taken on issues such as poor housing, food quality, communities and place, employment, racism and discrimination, transport and air pollution.

That is why the RCP is calling for:

  • A cross-government strategy to reduce health inequalities, led by the prime minister, including targets and evaluation metrics that go beyond the government’s aim of increasing healthy life expectancy by just 5 years over the next 14 years.

92 senior leaders from the IHA have today written to the prime minister asking him to commit to a cross-government strategy to reduce health inequalities.