HLAxLords Tackling Health Equity
“I came along (to the Health Equity Challenge) because this area fascinates me, and I’m leaving having realized how little I actually knew.”
Regardless of where we fall on the political spectrum, almost all of us believe that ill health should not produce poverty and poverty should not produce ill health. Health inequalities are very prevalent in our society, yet there is much that health professionals may do to help alleviate them. However, the ways in which healthcare systems and wider social structures impact poor health are seldom taught in a comprehensive manner to healthcare students in the United Kingdom. We need opportunities that promote understanding of structural violence and how we might address it.
This year marked the first series of Health Equity Challenges in Manchester, which saw students from a variety of healthcare fields meeting to learn more about the system in which they work, and the challenges their patients face. These student health professionals – paramedics, pharmacists, midwives, dentists, nurses, engineers, and doctors – from universities across the North West convened in central Manchester to test their understanding of the NHS, commissioning, policy, public health and health inequities. Students across the region from widening participation schemes joined them.
This professionally diverse group of participants explored the roles of the organisations and ministerial departments involved with the NHS and how funding flows through them. They formed commissioning groups, analysed health needs, and simulated taking control of £1 billion budgets. They puzzled over the challenges associated with the devolution of funding to Greater Manchester, and began to investigate the impact systems-level decisions can have on the individual patient, particularly when that patient lives in a deprived area. They unpicked barriers to wellbeing confronted by individuals in lower resourced areas, debated the role of a health professional, and found their footholds as advocates. Expert facilitators: commissioners, public policy advisors, barristers, researchers and senior health professionals were on hand to guide them.
Greatly encouraged by the enthusiasm, we are currently working on several more initiatives for the coming year, and will be part of the Healthcare Leadership Academy panel this September at the House of Lords, where we aim to highlight the role health professionals can have in reducing inequities. We hope to show how we may capacitate students and trainees to do so, as strong healthcare leaders.
Doctors and nurses from the three most deprived clinical commissioning groups in Manchester helping student commissioners to reason through tricky funding impasses and become more aware of the processes involved in allocating resources.
Jessica Lee is a medical student in Manchester