NHS Confederation publishes new toolkit to support ICS to tackle health inequalities

Sarah Walter comments on the publication of a health inequalities report and ICS toolkit, following a research project with partners.

22 March 2024

The survey the NHS Confederation undertook for the 2022/2023 State of ICS report highlighted that ICS leaders are united by a common ambition to shift towards prevention, drive improvements in population health and reduce health inequalities.

When ICS leaders were asked ‘Putting aside all the national must-dos, what one thing would you like your system to have achieved in five years’, the words ‘health inequalities’, ‘prevention’, ‘population’ and ‘communities’ were the most referred to areas where people wanted to make progress.

The same survey also found one in five ICSs do not currently feel confident that they are able to fulfil their role in tackling inequalities and, perhaps more worrying still, no system responding to the survey reported that they feel ‘very confident’ in tackling inequalities.

In response to this, the NHS Confederation sought partners for a research project to interview system health inequalities leads to learn more about how targeted funding has been spent.

The research, undertaken by Leeds Beckett University and with further insights from Clarity and the Care Quality Commission, has drawn out key principles and approaches from inequalities funding allocation for systems to tweak and scale as they develop plans and strategies to tackle health inequalities in their footprints and use the funding as effectively as possible in the future.

In particular, the importance of embedding leadership behaviours, ensuring appropriate governance, the role of plans and strategies and evaluation frameworks are all things that the toolkit provides ICS leaders with practical support for. 

Sarah Walter, director of the NHS Confederation’s ICS Network said:

"Our ICS members are fully committed to their second core purpose of tackling health inequalities. Many systems are already doing fantastic work in this space which is showcased in this report and the accompanying toolkit.

"In summer 2023, ICS leaders told us that tackling inequalities in outcomes, experience and access was the area of their core purposes in which they felt least confident. We have worked with partners to understand their work better, and to produce a practical resource to support them learn from each other and to make their efforts match their ambition on this issue."