The report, released by the Institute of Health Equity, shows that health professionals are perfectly positioned to help tackle health inequalities from the wider social context instead of just a medical one.
It has been calculated that addressing health inequalities in the way the report suggests could save the NHS £5.5bn a year, and the Health Secretary said the NHS had a legal duty to reduce health inequality.
The report describes areas where greater action is necessary and possible and makes some practical suggestions about how to take forward action on the social determinants of health.
It contains recommendations and analysis in six core areas, and contains nineteen Statements for Action about actions health professionals can take to tackle the social determinants of health through their practitioner role.
The report also sets out a series of commitments and future work programme, from twenty relevant organisations. These cover each of the six priority areas in this report, and display an impressive ambition to take forward action on the social determinants of health.
These commitments will form the basis for an on-going programme of work led by IHE and will be developed, tested and implemented further and it develops over the next few years.
A greater focus on information about the social determinants of health, and information on what works to tackle health inequities, should be included as a mandatory, assessed element of undergraduate and postgraduate education.
Communication, partnership and advocacy skills are all general areas that will help professionals to tackle the social determinants of health. There are also specific practice-based skills, such as taking a social history and referring patients to non-medical services, which should be embedded in teaching in undergraduate and postgraduate courses.
Both knowledge about the social determinants of health and skills to tackle these should be taught and reinforced as a compulsory element of CPD. Universities should take steps to ensure that students from all socio-economic backgrounds have fair access to health care careers.
Health professionals should refer their patients to a range of services – medical, social services and other agencies and organisations, so that the root causes of ill health are tackled as well as the symptoms being medicated.
Health professionals should utilise their roles as managers and employers to ensure that staff have good quality work, which increases control, respects and rewards effort, and provides services such as occupational health. They should use their purchasing power, in employment and commissioning, is used to the advantage of the local population, using employment to improve health and reduce inequalities in the local area.
Partnerships within the health sector shoud be consistent, broad and focussed on the social determinants of health.
Individual health professionals and health care organisations such as local NHS Trusts should act as advocates for their local community, seeking to improve the social and economic conditions and reduce inequalities in their local area. Individual health professionals, students and professional bodies such as medical Royal Colleges should advocate for policy changes that would improve the social and economic conditions in which people live, and particularly those that would reduce inequalities in these conditions. They should target this advocacy at central government, and bodies such as the NHS Commissioning Board.
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