The Office for Health Improvement and Disparities will focus on preventing people in deprived areas from developing debilitating health conditions
"If we are to address the root causes of health inequalities – such as poor housing, air quality and diet – we need strong political leadership to ensure that the good work of one department isn’t being undone by the unintended consequences of policy in another.” Andrew Goddard, president of the Royal College of Physicians
Public Health England (PHE) has been replaced by a new body, the Office for Health Improvement and Disparities (OHID).
The aim of the new body, which came into being on 1 October, is to tackle disparities in health across the UK. In his speech to the Conservative Party conference earlier this week, Sajid Javid noted that the gap in life expectancy between Blackpool and Richmond upon Thames was nearly 20 years. “It’s time to level up on health,” he said.
OHID, which will be led by the chief medical officer Chris Whitty, will take a new approach to public health, the government said, focusing on stopping debilitating health conditions before they develop.
Addressing health disparities would help people to live “longer, healthier lives” and “reduce the pressure on the health and care system.”
As examples of health disparities, the government cited the higher incidence of both smoking and obesity in deprived areas. The biggest preventable killers – tobacco, obesity, alcohol and recreational drugs – cost the taxpayer “billions of pounds each year to fund treatment and long-term care, as well as putting bed capacity pressure on the health service,” the government statement said.
OHID would apply “cutting-edge science, technology, evidence and data to target support where it is most needed,” it added.
Emphasising the importance of an “evidence-based approach,” Whitty said that OHID would “work collaboratively across the national, regional and local levels as well as with the NHS, academia, the third sector, scientists, researchers and industry.”
Health and social care secretary Sajid Javid said of OHID: “This body marks a new era of preventative healthcare to help people live healthier, happier and longer lives.”
Responses to the launch of OHID have been cautiously positive. Andrew Goddard, president of the Royal College of Physicians said: “While the OHID will do much to improve health inequalities, we also need a cross-government strategy, led by and accountable to the prime minister. The OHID has a unique opportunity to begin levelling up the health of the population, but we need more than coordination of government work. If we are to address the root causes of health inequalities – such as poor housing, air quality and diet – we need strong political leadership to ensure that the good work of one department isn’t being undone by the unintended consequences of policy in another.”
Jabeer Butt, CEO of the Race Equality Foundation, welcomed the establishment of OHID, but noted that, while Javid talked about “health disparities”, Whitty referred to “health inequalities”.
Butt said that “disparities and inequalities are not interchangeable,” adding: “We hope that OHID remains focused firmly on inequalities, and persuades the Government to take action which address the structural factors, such as racial inequality, that drive the differences in health outcomes for so many communities.”