Please login to the form below

Not currently logged in

Time to talk about health inequalities

Health inequalities are increasingly being recognised as a crucial healthcare challenge in the UK

Sanofi employeeSanofi employee

Health inequalities are increasingly being recognised as a crucial healthcare challenge in the UK, with the NHS taking forward key initiatives, such as Core20PLUS5, focused on reducing the inequalities experienced by certain communities across England. The government continues to work towards the ambition of narrowing the life expectancy gap between some of the most deprived and least deprived communities in the UK, underlining the important focus that is currently being given to health inequalities.

It’s also encouraging to see the prioritisation of health inequalities in recent announcements and the commitment to tackle them in plans, such as the Major Conditions Strategy, which will aim to tackle some of our greatest health challenges and, within this, seek to address identified health disparities.

Without doubt, there is a need to think about specific communities as these initiatives move forward, and to respond to the available insights on the nature of inequalities experienced by different groups and the underlying reasons for those inequalities.

To highlight just a couple of examples, the NHS Race and Health Observatory published an important report in 2022 that identified barriers across a range of areas – including inequalities in mental health, neonatal care, digital access, genomic services and in the healthcare workforce.

Or, when we look at the experience of individuals from the LGBT+ community in healthcare, there are stark barriers to accessing healthcare for some patients, with a significant number of people reporting that they have had a negative experience with health services because of their sexual orientation or gender identity.

I know, from my own experience working in healthcare, that health inequality is not a recent phenomenon. A diagnosis of a condition or disease has never been in isolation, and the underlying causes can be linked to wider social issues, such as poverty, malnutrition and poor living conditions these issues remain as relevant today as it did when I joined the NHS in 1981. The NHS does not drive health inequalities, but it does play a part, as where you live will impact on your access to services. We have a health service based on clinical need and not the ability to pay, but we also have a health service that is not easily accessible to all. The elderly, those with mental illness, language barriers, no transport links and those less able, find themselves disadvantaged when trying to access services. As we now understand, health is more than being free of illness or disease, and there is no single solution to reducing inequalities – it requires all of us to work in collaboration to break down the barriers.

Sanofi employeeSanofi employee

Sanofi has launched ‘A Million Conversations’ – an initiative that recognises the barriers that different communities experience in healthcare and that is also making commitments to support change.

‘A Million Conversations’ is a global initiative to rebuild trust in healthcare among the under-represented. It was launched in response to a first-of-its kind global survey of 11,500 patients that revealed that an alarming number of people from marginalised communities have had their trust in healthcare eroded by past negative experiences. We call this the ‘trust gap’.

The results of the survey show how important it is to engage directly with communities and hear first-hand about their experiences. For example, the survey of five countries (the UK, the US, France, Japan and Brazil) found that people who are from an ethnic minority are 16% more likely to have had a negative experience in healthcare that has made them lose trust in the system in general. The gap was similar for people who have a disability, with 73% of people who have a disability reporting this type of negative experience, compared to just 56% of people who do not have a disability.

These learnings are so important as we continue to recover services from the experience of the pandemic and address issues in healthcare that were caused by COVID-19, including the disproportionate impact of the pandemic on certain communities. For example, as we think about the need to detect and diagnose health conditions earlier, it is crucial that people from all communities are able to access healthcare as soon as they need it – so closing the ‘trust gap’ must be a priority.

Through ‘A Million Conversations’, Sanofi is committing an investment of €50m to empower people from marginalised communities to speak directly to the healthcare industry and to develop a pipeline of diverse healthcare professionals (HCPs). This will support the establishment of the ‘Next Gen’ scholarship that will, in partnership with leading higher education institutions across the world, identify up to 100 new students from marginalised communities each year to support the next generation of HCPs.

From my own experience as a nurse, I can see how important it is to make sure that the healthcare workforce is as diverse as and representative of the community it serves, and I am excited at the thought of a new generation of professionals coming through to support us in tackling some of the greatest healthcare challenges.

As the survey results show, it is so important to listen to lived experience and use those insights to effect changes, so beyond the empowerment of future medics, ‘A Million Conversations’ will also see us looking to listen to communities and act on what we hear, through hundreds of listening events that will aim to change policy and attitudes within the pharmaceutical industry.

These listening events will be critical and will help us to think about the different ways of working so that we are meeting the needs of diverse communities and ensuring that we do not leave people behind as we develop scientific innovations now and in the future.

As we look forward to the next few years and the major health challenges that we may need to confront, it is my hope that initiatives such as this will have a significant impact on the way in which we address health inequalities – building a diverse workforce, providing opportunities for listening, learning and working in partnership to improve health outcomes in an equitable way.

References are available on request.

Photographs feature Sanofi employees as representatives from the countries involved in A Million Conversations. © Fisheye Prod

Debbie Woods is UKIE Head of Medical – General Medicines at Sanofi

31st March 2023

Debbie Woods is UKIE Head of Medical – General Medicines at Sanofi

31st March 2023

From: Healthcare


Career advice

No results were found

Subscribe to our email news alerts


Add my company
Bedrock Healthcare Communications

Bedrock Healthcare Communications is an award-winning, independent agency founded in 2011. We partner with healthcare professionals, patients, and global pharmaceutical...