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RCP policy: public health and health inequality

The Royal College of Physicians (RCP) has a long history of promoting public health through evidence-based policy. Physicians and medical professionals have a key role to play not only in managing ill health, but also in supporting people to live healthier lives.

The RCP also produced one of the first reports for government that found economic inequality to be the main cause of health inequality. The Black Report (1980), commissioned in 1977 by the secretary of state for health and social security, had a huge impact. It led to an assessment by the Office for Economic Co-Operation and Development and the World Health Organization of health inequalities in 13 countries.

What we are doing

The RCP is working with colleagues across the UK's major health institutions to tackle public health challenges posed by air pollution, alcohol, obesity and tobacco. We are founder members of the UK Health Alliance on Climate Change, the Alcohol Health Alliance and the Obesity Health Alliance, and we established Action on Smoking and Health.

In 2019 we created our advisory group on reducing health inequality. The group’s role is to develop and help implement the RCP strategy for reducing inequalities in health and wellbeing in populations.

During 2020, the group will be asking RCP committees and boards to help it develop that strategy. The group has also created a reference group of fellows, members and interested individuals, which you can join by emailing policy@rcplondon.ac.uk.

Who's involved


The RCP works with the Obesity Health Alliance (OHA) to support policy making to tackle the social, economic and cultural factors that contribute to obesity and the inequalities in health caused by obesity.

As a founding member of the Alcohol Health Alliance (AHA), the RCP is working with the AHA to highlight the rising levels of alcohol-related harm, propose evidence-based solutions to reduce this harm and influence decision makers to take positive action to address the damage caused by alcohol misuse.

As a founding member of the UK Health Alliance on Climate Change (UKHACC), the RCP seeks to highlight better approaches to tackling climate change that protect and promote public health.

What we have produced

The RCP urges the government to introduce a clean air bill for the 21st century that tackles the modern sources of air pollution.
The RCP believes the most effective way to reduce the harm from alcohol is to reduce its affordability, availability and attractiveness.
The RCP's goal is to prevent obesity-related ill-health by addressing the influences that lead to excess bodyweight throughout life.
The RCP wants the delivery of smoking cessation support to all smokers to be a core function of all healthcare activity.
This report provides an update on the use of harm reduction in tobacco smoking, particularly in relation to e-cigarettes.
This report from the RCP and the RCPCH examines the impact of exposure to air pollution across the course of a lifetime.
The RCP wants the UK to retain EU regulation on air quality and seek to continue implementation of its pollution reduction targets.
Simple changes to how health professionals procure and dispose of medical supplies can have a positive influence on societal health and wellbeing.

Breaking the fever: Sustainability and climate change in the NHS gives an overview of the impact of climate change on healthcare in the UK, and how physicians and the NHS can contribute to reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

Obesity is an increasing and costly public health problem which is not being addressed by current services or policy. This report confronts the issues, and sets out how the NHS should adapt to meet the demands of an increasingly obese nation.