Physios urged by King's Fund to take 'small steps' in efforts to tackle rampant health inequalities
A King’s Fund report on tackling health inequalities has praised members of physiotherapy teams at the Royal Free Hospital in north London who gave smoking-cessation advice and support to patients on vascular wards.
The ‘My role in tackling health inequalities: A framework for allied health professionals’ (AHPs) report was written by Durka Dougall and David Buck and is backed by the Chartered Society of Physiotherapy and 13 other AHP bodies. It was published last week (17 June).
The [physiotherapy teams'] intervention proved not only beneficial for the patients supported, but also for practitioners who could provide more prevention-focused care for this group
Noting that smoking is a key risk factor for people with vascular problems, the report portrays the Royal Free Hospital approach as being a ‘win-win’ one. ‘The intervention proved not only beneficial for the patients supported, but also for practitioners who could provide more prevention-focused care for this group.'
Every AHP can make a 'unique contribution'
The report's foreword praises the ‘sheer dedication’ AHPs showed in their response to the Covid-19 pandemic – which it says laid bare some of the ‘deep health inequalities’ in communities across the UK. Noting that such inequalities will not disappear in the pandemic’s aftermath, the foreword says that every AHP can make a ‘unique contribution’ to tackling them.
‘From small steps to big efforts, every person’s contributions will count, and together we know that we can make a difference to reducing health inequalities.’
As well as the 14 AHP bodies, Public Health England, NHS England and NHS Improvement worked with the King’s Fund to develop the framework for tackling health inequalities unveiled in the report.
Change is possible
The framework aims to correct a common misconception that health inequalities can only be tackled at a population level and not by practitioners focusing on the care of individuals. Change is possible with AHPs’ help, the report stresses.
‘You will have seen this in your own clinical practice: the impact of poverty, low health literacy, homelessness, unemployment, lack of social support and other factors making it harder for people to seek support, understand and engage with their care, navigate the various services that can help meet their needs, take preventive action early, and live life as healthily as possible for as long as possible.
‘You will have also seen variations in the way that services are run or barriers in practice that can also make things harder for people and thus worsen inequality.
‘Whatever our role, each of us can make a difference, whether that is about supporting an individual during a consultation, through influencing the design of services, or using our influence to advocate for wider changes.’
The framework sets out how AHPs can raise their own awareness, take action and act as advocates in six areas, which are:
1 the self
3 clinical teams, pathways and service groups
4 communities and networks
5 health and care systems
6 nurturing the future
What are health inequalities?
They are ‘unfair and avoidable differences in health across populations and between different groups within society’ (King's Fund 2020). With more than four million client contacts every week, the 170,000 AHPs in England ‘hold tremendous power’ to tackle such inequalities, according to the report.
Physiotherapist Linda Hindle's contribution
Physiotherapist Linda Hindle was a member of the advisory group that helped draw up the report. Her job title is given as deputy chief AHP officer for England and Public Health England and lead allied health professional and national engagement lead for public health in police, fire and ambulance services.
To download a copy of ‘My role in tackling health inequalities: A framework for allied health professionals’ visit: https://www.kingsfund.org.uk/publications/tackling-health-inequalities-framework-allied-health-professionalsAuthor: Ian A McMillan