RPS calls on government to do more to tackle health inequalities

The Royal Pharmaceutical Society has co-signed a letter to prime minister Boris Johnson outlining why a cross-government strategy would strengthen the new Office for Health Improvement and Disparities, due to launch on 1 October 2021.
Thorrun Govind, chair of the RPS English Pharmacy Board

The Royal Pharmaceutical Society (RPS) in England has joined more than 90 other organisations that comprise the Inequalities in Health Alliance (IHA) to call for a cross-government strategy to reduce health inequalities.

A letter sent to prime minister Boris Johnson on 15 September 2021 welcomes the launch of a new government body, the Office for Health Improvement and Disparities (OHID), under the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC). The launch is planned for 1 October 2021.

The IHA’s letter to the prime minister points out that people’s mental and physical health is affected by many factors beyond both the control of the individual and of the DHSC and NHS, such as poorly-maintained homes, the cost of public transport and lack of access to healthier food. As a result, it argues that a cross-government strategy “involving all government departments, led by and accountable to you”, would strengthen the OHID’s work.

It also notes that, before the COVID-19 pandemic, there was a gap of almost two decades in healthy life expectancy between the richest and poorest communities in England.

“[Health and social care services] can only try and cure the ailments created by the environments people live in. If we are to prevent ill-health in the first place, we need to take action on issues such as poor housing, food quality, communities and place, employment, racism and discrimination, transport and air pollution,” the letter states, adding that a cross-government strategy to address these issues would reduce healthcare costs as well as pressure on the NHS in the long term.

Thorrun Govind, chair of the RPS English Pharmacy Board and a co-signatory of the letter, said that COVID-19 has “highlighted the urgent need for action across government to reduce health inequalities”.

“Pharmacy has contributed, and can contribute, hugely to reducing health inequalities and improving public health, including smoking cessation, blood pressure checks and addressing vaccination hesitancy, so being involved when strategy is discussed is vital.

“[As part of] the third largest healthcare profession, pharmacists understand the challenges in their local areas and can offer rapid access to health and care, including delivering cost effective care to groups in deprived communities.

“Supporting women’s health, minority ethnic groups, or those less able to access healthcare must be a priority as we look to the NHS recovery,” she added.

In February 2021, RPS Wales called upon the Welsh government to do more to address health inequalities across the nation, with Elen Jones, director for RPS Wales, noting that “collective action at national and local levels is now needed and we want to see a cross-government commitment in Wales to move this important work forward”.

RPS Scotland said in its manifesto for the Scottish Parliament 2021 elections, published in February 2021, that pharmacists and their teams should be involved in identifying and delivering solutions for reducing health inequalities.

READ MORE: Tackling health inequalities in the UK, now and post-Brexit

Health inequalities

The Royal Pharmaceutical Society’s policy on health inequalities was drawn up in January 2023 following a presentation by Michael Marmot, director of the Institute for Health Equity, at the RPS annual conference in November 2022. The presentation highlighted the stark health inequalities across Britain.

While community pharmacies are most frequently located in areas of high deprivation, people living in these areas do not access the full range of services that are available. To mitigate this, the policy calls on pharmacies to not only think about the services it provides but also how it provides them by considering three actions:

  • Deepening understanding of health inequalities
    • This means developing an insight into the demographics of the population served by pharmacies using population health statistics and by engaging with patients directly through local community or faith groups.
  • Understanding and improving pharmacy culture
    • This calls on the whole pharmacy team to create a welcoming culture for all patients, empowering them to take an active role in their own care, and improving communication skills within the team and with patients.
  • Improving structural barriers
    • This calls for improving accessibility of patient information resources and incorporating health inequalities into pharmacy training and education to tackle wider barriers to care.
Last updated
The Pharmaceutical Journal, PJ, September 2021, Vol 307, No 7953;307(7953)::DOI:10.1211/PJ.2021.1.105743

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