Tackling health inequalities 'front and centre' as NHS rebuilds from the pandemic

30 September 2021

A new report from NHS Providers says tackling health inequalities will be 'front of mind' for trust leaders as the health service strives to address the unequal and devastating impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.

However, Health inequalities: a core concern, says trusts and systems will need support as they focus on this issue, warning that improvement in this area may take time, bring additional costs and could slow down broader efforts to  reduce the size of waiting lists.

Coming in the wake of comments by the secretary of state for health and social care on the need to 'level up' health, and just ahead of the launch of the Office for Health Improvement and Disparities on 1 October, the report maps out the increasing policy focus on health inequalities through guidance and forthcoming legislation.

It also highlights the leading role trusts can play in creating lasting change in how inequalities in care are understood and dealt with across the NHS.

From the inclusion of health inequalities in NHS operational planning guidance and regulatory frameworks, to the Health and Care Bill and its focus on collaboration, the report concludes there is now a genuine opportunity to tackle health inequalities as the health service rebuilds from the pandemic and cements partnerships with a wide range of organisations that support people's health.

But the briefing also emphasises the challenges of addressing health inequalities alongside the urgent imperative to bear down on broader delays in treatment that have increased as a result of the pandemic.

To maximise chances of success, the briefing calls for a supportive policy framework to underpin local action by trusts and their partners with a focus on long-term, sustainable change, rather than just short term goals.  

The deputy chief executive of NHS Providers, Saffron Cordery said:

"COVID-19 has cruelly laid bare the fault lines within society, creating a situation where those who were most disadvantaged before the pandemic bore the brunt of the virus and were hit hardest by the measures needed to control it.

"But we now have a once in a generation chance to take action on the inequalities which are so deep rooted in our communities.

The NHS has an important role to play in improving people's health beyond the services it provides, and trusts are committed to fully playing their part to tackle health inequalities.

Saffron Cordery    Deputy Chief Executive

"The NHS has an important role to play in improving people's health beyond the services it provides, and trusts are committed to fully playing their part to tackle health inequalities.

"But we must be properly equipped to do this alongside the many other challenges we face.

"The secretary of state for health and social care recently issued a clarion call for a levelling up in health. These words now need to be turned into action.

"We need national policymakers to enable and support trusts and systems to prioritise this focus on inequalities, and avoid any unhelpful trade-offs. Improvement in this area may take time, may bring additional costs, and could slow down broader efforts to reduce the size of waiting lists or return to expected productivity levels.

"Trusts need to be empowered to work within their systems to find the right balance for their local populations."

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