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UK launches new office to tackle health inequalities

The Office for Health Improvement and Disparities (OHID) has been officially launched by the UK Government, aimed at preventing health disparities across the country and supporting people to live longer, healthier, and happier lives.

OHID will focus on stopping debilitating health conditions before they develop and represents a distinct step-change in focus from the Government towards a more preventative, rather than reactionary, approach to health.

One of the key intentions of this is to reduce the backlog and also put social care on a long-term sustainable footing, tackling health issues much earlier in their presentation, tackling the underlying causes of many of these, or preventing them altogether.

The new government office will see Professor Chris Whitty, Chief Medical Officer, provide professional leadership to the organisation.

Announcing the official launch of OHID, the Government pointed to some of the clear trends shown in recent figures, which highlight how geographical location can play a significant role in a person’s life expectancy and the years that they can expect to live a healthy life. For example:

  • men in the most deprived areas in England are expected to live nearly 10 years fewer than those in the least deprived. Women in the same areas can expect to live 7 years fewer
  • smoking is more prevalent in more deprived areas and one of the leading causes of inequalities in life expectancy; an international study found it accounts for half the difference in mortality between the least and most deprived men aged 35 to 69
  • obesity is widespread but more prevalent among the most deprived areas; prevalence is almost 8% higher among those living in the most deprived decile of local authorities (66.6%) compared to those in the least deprived areas (58.8%)

Under its new remit, OHID will work to coordinate across local and central government, the NHS and wider society – utilising expert advice, analysis, and evidence – to drive improvements in the public’s health which may be able to have preventative roles and level up health across the UK.

Preventative approaches to health can, it is intended, reduce the pressure on existing healthcare services, saving significant resource and money, and ensure that record investments into health and social care services can go further.

Health and Social Care Secretary, Sajid Javid said: “The pandemic has laid bare the health disparities we face not only as a country, but as communities and individuals.

“This must change, and this body marks a new era of preventative healthcare to help people live healthier, happier and longer lives.

“The Office for Health Improvement and Disparities will be the driving force across government, supported by communities, academics, industry and employers, to level up the health of our nation, which will reduce the pressure on our NHS and care services.”

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NHE May/June 2024

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