Devolving health powers key to tackling inequalities – white paper

A white paper  lists devolution of health powers to combined authorities among 10 key recommendations for tackling health and economic inequalities that cost the nation £180bn a year.

The Empowering Local Places for Health and Prosperity paper, from Health Innovation Yorkshire & Humber, Yorkshire Universities and the NHS Confederation, says Yorkshire and Humber’s diverse geography, economy and population make it the ideal test bed.

The UK loses £13.2bn a year in productivity as a result of health inequalities in the North of England.

Richard Stubbs, chief executive of Health Innovation Yorkshire & Humber and one of the white paper authors, said: “The link between healthy people and a strong economy is now well understood, yet despite efforts by partners in our region and government in recent years, health and economic inequalities across Yorkshire and Humber continue to widen. We must look urgently to new ways of working to ensure our people, our economy and our health service cannot just survive but thrive.

“Our aim through this white paper is to shape a new model for addressing health and economic inequalities that delivers better outcomes, not just in Yorkshire but nationally.

“We’ve got many of the ingredients for success here already. What we need is more of the powers and flexible investment to respond to what local communities really need and strengthen partnerships – especially with business, a sector that can contribute massively to better health as well as a stronger economy.”

Launched a week before the 2024 Convention of the North takes place in West Yorkshire, the white paper was developed after gathering evidence from more than 40 individuals covering wide ranging perspectives across Yorkshire and beyond.

It also identifies the important role of universities and businesses in supporting health and economic prosperity as part of broad-based local partnerships.

White paper co-author Matthew Taylor, chief executive of the NHS Confederation, said,  “There is growing evidence that local action delivers better outcomes, through the power of greater local autonomy, alignment of principles and reforms, and a better understanding of health as an economic and social agent.

“We have called on the government to let local leaders lead, which was one of the driving forces of why ICSs [integrated care systems] were established in the first place.

“This white paper bolsters that evidence and highlights how through partnership working the NHS can fully realise it’s social and economic potential.”

As a region home to 37,000 students studying medicine or health-related subjects, Yorkshire’s universities are well-placed to meet ambitious targets set out in the NHS’s Long-Term Workforce Plan to double the number of medical school places in England and increasing adult nursing training places by 92%.

With NHS vacancies – particularly nursing jobs – at an all-time high, one of the white paper’s top recommendations is for health service leaders and the government to work more closely with universities to remove barriers to student recruitment in health-related subjects.

Professor Karen Bryan OBE, chair of Yorkshire Universities, said: “Action to deliver on the NHS Workforce Plan ambitions has been slow to materialise, which is concerning given the scale of the workforce crisis the NHS is facing. I’m pleased that this white paper recognises the crucial role of universities in meeting the targets in the Workforce Plan, including boosting student recruitment, providing capital investment to improve training capacity, extending and diversifying placements and practice-learning, and tackling health student and early-career attrition.”

Karen Taylor, Director at Deloitte’s Centre for Health Solutions, said: “COVID-19 made it clear that employers have a responsibility to the health and wellbeing of employees. I’m pleased to see this white paper recognising the important role that businesses of all sizes have in supporting good health as well as generating wealth.

“Larger firms can have even greater impact by not just adopting best practice themselves but also driving change through their supply chains and professional networks and measuring action to support better health and wellbeing through their ESG frameworks.”

The white paper builds on the influential 2020 YHealth for Growth publication, which informed a report by the House of Lords’ Public Services Committee on the government’s levelling up agenda and has prompted closer joint working between regional partners.

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