NHS Voices blogs

How businesses can help tackle the health gap

Moving beyond traditional NHS collaborations will be key to addressing the complexities around health inequalities and closing the health gap.
Marie-Andree Gamache

27 July 2022

Marie-Andree Gamache, country president Novartis UK and Ireland, outlines how tackling health inequalities requires input from all parts of the healthcare system.

Closing the health gap is vital and we are at a pivotal time to take action. Whilst inequalities in health have always existed throughout society, they have been further exacerbated by COVID-19. The most recent data from the Office of Health Improvement and Disparities (OHID) highlights these staggering differences, including the widening disparity in life expectancy between the most and least deprived areas ( 1 )

Improving these unacceptable health inequalities is rightly at the top of the health agenda. This includes the first ambassador for women’s health, appointed last month to address the gender health gap. The Health and Care Act is also providing a once-in-a-decade shake-up of the healthcare system, giving another opportunity for systematic change.

Addressing the complexities around health inequalities requires all parts of the healthcare system to work together, including businesses, healthcare systems, policymakers, and communities

Addressing the complexities around health inequalities requires all parts of the healthcare system to work together, including businesses, healthcare systems, policymakers, and communities. The pandemic has shown the value of initiatives beyond traditional NHS collaborations, meaning we are in a unique position to work closer together than ever before.

Health Inequalities Pledge

Recognising our role as a life sciences organisation and the post-COVID-19 opportunities for system transformation, in 2021 we launched our Health Inequalities Pledge: our ongoing commitment to work closely with healthcare systems to develop real solutions, enabling faster diagnosis and earlier interventions for those most at risk of ill health and poor health outcomes.

Twelve months on, we’ve worked with partners to ensure our pledge is delivering meaningful impact and have learned valuable lessons along the way. One example has been through our Health Inequalities Engagement Toolkit, which is co-created with local healthcare system leaders and provided to our associates for use with stakeholders and clinicians. The interactive tool seeks to facilitate dialogue aimed at finding new and innovative ways to tackle system-level health inequalities.

Data saves lives

We’ve also focused our efforts on data.  At NHS ConfedExpo in June, there was a clear understanding that data saves lives and we too believe health datasets have a very significant role to play in tackling health inequalities. Population health management provides an opportunity to revolutionise healthcare and address the healthcare outcomes that are due to socioeconomic and environmental factors ( 2 ). It shows a need for life science organisations to think not just about treating ill health, but about preventing it too. We hope our Health Inequalities Insight Toolkit can play a role here in tackling the unwarranted variation in health.

This has been particularly effective in our work with Our Healthier South East London Integrated Care System (ICS) for cardiovascular disease (CVD) prevention, a key contributor in the 13-year life expectancy gap in the south east of London. This partnership helps to identify the most at-risk groups across the ICS to co-create ways to provide faster diagnoses and earlier CVD intervention. It’s crucial that learnings can be applied more widely, so we are also devising a blueprint for roll out across the rest of England.

Upskilling to drive change

As well as working closely with the NHS, we are a proud partner to the Royal College of Physicians and have funded a new clinical fellow in health inequality, Dr Ash Birtles. With feedback that trainees need more information in the area, the partnership will develop practical guidance to upskill doctors in addressing health inequalities in their practices. Upskilling is a key driver of change and is an important avenue for organisations to explore to develop much-needed training solutions.

Businesses have a responsibility to look at how they can positively influence the nation’s health

But it’s not just partnerships that are central to overcoming health inequalities. Businesses have a responsibility to look at how they can positively influence the nation’s health. Dr Bola Owolabi, director of health inequalities at NHS England, co-hosted a roundtable on the subject, noting: “We know that some companies have been working to invest in health equity for some time. We want to learn from their experiences and support more organisations to engage in similar work ( 3 ).” Novartis UK joined the discussion leading to a new framework of ten ways businesses can help. We want to lead the way in this area so have adopted all ten areas as part of our pledge. We’re proud to have joined NHS net zero, committed to a living wage internationally, supported digital inclusion and integrated health inequalities into our core strategy.

Overall, we need a bold approach to tackling health inequalities, working across all aspects of healthcare. We need to take the opportunities provided to us by the pandemic for more dynamic partnerships and look within our own organisations for ways to make improvements to the health and wellbeing of those around us.

By being proactive and taking the opportunity for innovation, the NHS and its partners can make important steps to reduce health inequalities and ensure that nobody is left behind when it comes to their healthcare and quality of life.

Marie-Andree Gamache is country president at Novartis UK and Ireland. You can follow Novartis on Twitter @novartisuk