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by Tom Freeman
05 January 2015
NHS ‘cannot plug health gap’

NHS ‘cannot plug health gap’

The NHS must work more with other agencies and government departments to address stark inequalities in Scotland’s health and life expectancy, as current work and government initiatives have failed to make a difference, according to a new report by MSPs.

The Scottish Parliament's Health and Sport Committee today produced its first report on health inequalities, which seeks to “widen the debate” on the subject. “If real progress is to be made, significant efforts will have to be made across a raft of policy areas and by different agencies collaborating and working more effectively together,” the committee recommended.

Committee members also agreed “some interventions, for example public health messages in relation to risky behaviours such as alcohol abuse, tobacco use, diet and exercise had been shown to have had little or no impact on health inequalities or, indeed, to have exacerbated them”.

Committee convener Duncan McNeil said: "Our NHS can offer a sticking plaster, but without a new approach we will not tackle the root causes of inequality and improve the health outcomes of thousands of people across Scotland."

The Royal College of Nursing (RCN) welcomed the report. Theresa Fyffe, RCN Scotland Director said: “While the NHS isn’t set up to reduce poverty directly, it can target its resources more effectively and work with social work, education, the justice system and others to make a difference at an individual level.”  

Fyffe added the report illustrated the need for sustainable investment in community projects working with the most vulnerable in society. “However, this type of project is often the victim of short term funding and cuts, and benefits can be short-lived as a result,” she said.

Ian Welsh, Chief Executive of the Health and Social Care Alliance Scotland said resource should be transferred to the third sector because of its reach and proximity to communities.  "The role of policy and services should not be to lead, but to get alongside people and communities in ways that support them to build on their expertise, skills, assets and capacity and help to remove the systemic and social barriers that prevent people accessing their right to health," he said.

The report also recommends access to health services in deprived communities be improved. It can be read here 

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