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A new report by the Health Foundation argues that the NHS could make a greater contribution to improving social and economic conditions for people in the local areas in which it operates.
The report, Building healthier communities: the role of the NHS as an anchor institution, explores the idea of the NHS as an ‘anchor institution’ – that being a large, public sector organisation with sizeable assets that could be used to support community wealth building and development, and in doing so, advance the welfare of local people.
While acknowledging that while the root causes of poor health are primarily driven by factors outside of its control, the independent charity says there is now a ‘moral case’ for maximising the role of the NHS in improving peoples’ health and well-being, beyond just providing clinical care.
The Health Foundation also says that the size, scale and reach of the NHS means it is uniquely positioned to positively influence the social, economic and environmental factors that help create the conditions for good health. The report explores how NHS organisations can maximise their role as anchor institutions in local communities, in five key areas: widening access to quality employment’ purchasing and commissioning for social value (the NHS spends £27 billion each year on goods and services in England alone); leveraging land and assets for community benefit; leading on environmental sustainability; and as a local partner – working collaboratively, the NHS can use its influence and work with other local organisations to adopt similar practices and have greater impact.
Dominique Allwood, assistant director of Improvement at the Health Foundation and one of the report’s authors, said: “Our health is shaped by the conditions in which we live, learn, work and age. Access to good medical care is also crucial but it ultimately plays a lesser role in our overall health than these wider societal factors. With growing economic inequality in the UK, we’re also seeing widening health inequality, with people in deprived areas more likely to experience ill health. There is therefore a clear need for the NHS to make a broader contribution to people’s lives, leveraging its considerable resources to improve the economic and social conditions that impact so fundamentally on our health.
“Our report highlights several NHS organisations that are recognising their importance to their local communities and doing fantastic work. But there is much more that can and needs to be done. It is vital that those leading the way inspire wider change and that the NHS consciously adopts an anchor mission and helps create more inclusive economies throughout the UK.”