In the first event of the Campaign for Social Science’s ongoing project, Election 24: ideas for change based on social science evidence, Professor Trish Greenhalgh (University of Oxford) and Professor Petra Meier (University of Glasgow) explored the UK’s health inequalities.
In the online webinar, chaired by Professor Bobby Duffy, King’s College London, Trish and Petra discussed significant inequalities from the initial creation of health problems through to accessing the services then needed to treat those problems.
First, Petra explored how policy in other sectors, including in the economic, environmental and education sectors, can impact people’s health and create inequalities to begin with, as well as public attitudes towards health inequalities.
She said, “We must shift our perspective. Good health can’t be solely the responsibility of the NHS. The NHS can’t singlehandedly fix problems that are caused by decisions in non-health policy sectors.”
Following on from this, she outlined various factors, beyond the provision of well delivered health and social care services, that promote health and how it is the uneven distribution of these factors that results in health inequality, including access to high equality education, employment, good working conditions, financial stability and a safe and decent home.
Petra also discussed how social science and systems science can contribute to health policy, through asking uncomfortable questions, challenging myths, considering likely future developments and helping move to a world where health equity impacts are major considerations in all policies.
She said, “For me, a key priority is to understand what future health inequalities we are locking in through current social, economic and environmental policy decisions.”
Following Petra’s short presentation, Trish picked up on some of those themes with some complementary takes of her own including exploring how values underpin policies. She also set out three scenarios based on real people to illustrate the challenges faced in accessing health services and how these are linked to upstream causes of inequality rather than individual choice.
Trish said, “Many illnesses, especially in the most vulnerable groups, could be prevented if we put policies in place to reduce the widening inequalities that characterise contemporary UK society.”
She followed this with highlighting the importance of the NHS and what needs to be done to protect it for the future. “Apart from the good it does for people’s health…it’s also the country’s largest employer. The NHS boosts the economy by providing jobs as well as contributing to research and innovation.”
Trish continued, “We need to give all our NHS staff the clear message, we value you, we care about your wellbeing, we want to keep you, we will train you, and we need to strengthen the NHS itself rather than fragmenting its activities and contracting them out to private providers.”
Watch the recording below to find out more about health inequalities in the UK.