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Stop talking and take action: working together to tackle health inequalities

Published: 07 July 2023

Dr Esther Mukuka, NIHR Head of Research Inclusion and Dr Habib Navqi, NHS Race and Health Observatory (NHS RHO) Chief Executive Officer, explain how the NIHR and NHS RHO will support further action to tackle health inequalities.

It is no secret that inequalities are widespread across the UK's health and care systems. Before COVID-19, health inequalities were estimated to cost the NHS £4.8 billion a year, lost productivity to the economy cost £31 billion, not including between £20 billion and £32 billion in lost tax revenue and benefit payments. At the same time, racial and ethnic health inequalities have a considerable negative impact on patients and service users across the country. 

However, despite the significant financial and human consequences of these inequalities, we continue to struggle with giving them the attention and consideration they deserve. Although there is some consensus about the importance of addressing health inequalities, we still need to establish the connections between addressing these inequalities and promoting equity, inclusion, financial prosperity, and ethical and moral imperatives.

Despite the daunting nature of these deeply rooted health inequalities, it is essential that we remain steadfast in our efforts to investigate historical, economic, and social factors that contribute to them. Furthermore, we must make the necessary investments in our health and care systems to address inequalities and strive towards building a society that is fairer and more equitable for all.

Taking action

Increasingly, the government and the NHS are taking more direct action to understand and reduce ethnic and racial health inequalities, including a recent mandate to encourage greater participation of ethnic minorities in health and care research and to build trust in specific health interventions, such as vaccination programs.

One of the key strategies is to increase ethnic minority representation in research projects and clinical trials, which requires collaboration between NIHR and NHS RHO. This is exciting because both the NIHR and RHO have individually made significant progress in understanding and addressing health inequalities, as well as accumulating a wealth of evidence that supports a robust response.

An example here is the work we have done on pulse oximeters which included a rapid review of their accuracy in patients with pigmented skin by the RHO and a commissioned workstream by the NIHR Health Technology Assessment ProgrammeThe RHO released its report titled "Review of Neonatal Assessment and Practice in Black, Asian, and Minority Ethnic Newborns" on Tuesday, 11 July.  This report is critical for addressing the pressing issue of neonatal care within the context of diverse cultural backgrounds and ethnic health inequalities. It delves into the unique challenges faced by Black, Asian, and minority ethnic newborns and offers valuable insights into improving assessment and care practices. The findings and recommendations of this report have the potential to drive policy changes and improve medical practices, ultimately leading to better health outcomes and health equity.

Today, we are publishing our statement of intent, which solidifies our commitment to work together and maintains the momentum in our efforts to address health inequalities. Over the next 12 months, we will outline our exciting work plan and continue to share progress on our activities. We remain dedicated to using evidence to translate policy into practice.

For more information, visit NIHR’s Research Inclusion webpage and NHS RHO’s website.

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