The Society of Radiographers is celebrating the third annivserary of the Inequalities in Health Alliance, joining renewed calls for a cross-government strategy to reduce health inequalities.
The coalition of more than 250 organisations, convened by the Royal College of Physicians, launched its campaign in October 2020 – now, three years later, it says there is an “even greater need for bold action to tackle the unfair and avoidable differences in health across the population.”
According to the Inequalities in Health Allianc (IHA), these differences mean the most deprived people live almost 20 years longer in poor health than the most well off.
Dr Tracy O'Regan, professional officer of clinical imaging and research for the Society of Radiographers, explained a cross-government strategy was so important because health is affected by factors including poor housing, the availability of quality food, heating, living in areas of high or low employment, and experiences of racism and discrimination.
“On a collective level, the coalition goes further, to challenge and call for greater, more coordinated action across government departments," she said.
"The 250 organisation members of the alliance share learning and provide a network of support which is coordinated and targeted, aiming to ultimately work together to reduce the inequalities that our SoR members come face to face with each day when they care for patients.”
To improve these social determinants of health, Dr O’Regan emphasised the importance of taking responsibility on an individual practitioner level. She advised professionals to make use of a framework for allied health professionals created by the King’s Fund.
1. A cross-government strategy to reduce health inequalities, that looks beyond the NHS and the Department of Health and Social Care to look at the “many and varied factors” which contribute.
The IHA’s chief medical officer, Mohammad Salameh, said in his oral evidence to the Health and Social Care Committee’s inquiry on prevention that wider factors than simply healthcare must be considered when reducing health inequality.
“These problems are whole-of-government problems. They should not be seen as just a Department of Health problem.”
2.Ensure the needs of vulnerable groups, in line with section one of the Equality Act of 2010 – carrying out this socio-economic duty is vital to ensure these groups are not forgotten during decision making.
3.Adopt a ‘child health in all policies’ approach, because a healthy life begins in childhood. Public policy “must ensure every child has the best chance of good health throughout their life.”
Supporting these initiatives will reduce avoidable demand on the NHS, increase productivity of the workforce and provide long-term savings to the NHS and wider economy by reducing avoidable illness.
Analysis by the Health Foundation estimates the number of people living with major illness – such as more severe cases of cancer, diabetes, and kidney disease – will increase by 2.5 million by 2040. This is a projected 37 per cent increase in the number of people living with a major condition – almost one in five adults. At the same time, the size of the working population is only expected to grow by 4 per cent.
As the rising cost-of-living crisis continues to impact the population’s health – particularly in more deprived areas – the importance of ensuring equality in health has only grown. The cost-of-living crisis has demonstrated “more clearly than ever: the link between poor health and factors such as housing, education, discrimination and employment."
Moreover, in May 2022, the Royal College of Physicians found that 55 per cent of British adults felt their health had been negatively impacted by the rising cost of living, with the increasing costs of heating (84 per cent), food (78 per cent) and transport (46 per cent) reported as the top three factors.
IHA member organisations represent patients, communities, medical professionals, academics, local authorities and others who have “seen first-hand how the physical and mental health of people of all ages is shaped by the environments they live in.”