The Inequalities in Health Alliance (IHA) has written to the health secretary Dr Thérèse Coffey insisting she commits to publishing the Health Disparities White Paper by the end of this year.
Although commitment to the white paper was made in the Levelling Up white paper earlier this year, it was not mentioned in the recent ‘Our Plan for Patients’ document published by the Department of Health and Social Care.
Reports in the media last week suggested that the health secretary has decided to not publish the document, which was meant to appear last spring and was a key part of then prime minister Boris Johnson’s declared mission to level up Britain. However, the Department of Health and Social Care said that no decisions have been taken yet.
The IHA, a coalition of over 155 health organisations representing patients, communities, doctors, nurses, public health and social care professionals, dentists, pharmacists, academics, local authorities and others, are now calling on Dr Thérèse Coffey to commit to clear cross-government action to reduce health disparity.
According to LeDer reports, health disparity impacts people with learning disabilities due to problematic or unsafe hospital discharges, diagnostic over-shadowing when diagnosing illness and considering options for the escalation of care, and lack of consideration of the need for ‘reasonable adjustments’ to existing policies and processes for people with learning disabilities.
We need to tackle the root causes of ill health
In the letter, the IHA says that every government department should work together to tackle the factors that cause ill health in the first place such as poor housing, lack of educational opportunity, child poverty, communities and place, employment, racism and discrimination, transport and air pollution.
It makes clear that the secretary of state must restate the government’s commitment to health inequalities, warning that “focusing on individual behaviours and access to services alone will not be enough to close the almost 20-year gap in healthy life expectancy that exists in England between those from the least and most deprived communities.”
Dr Sarah Clarke, president of the Royal College of Physicians said: “If we’re ever to reduce pressure on the NHS and lessen the demand for services, we need to tackle the root causes of ill health. This requires a specific cross-government strategy to reduce health inequalities – one that looks at every policy lever across government to tackle the factors that make people ill in the first place.
“Health inequalities were a notable absence from the secretary of state’s first speech to parliament. Good health is central to economic growth. We need a clear commitment to prioritise health inequalities and deliver the health disparities white paper as planned.”