Professor Sir Ian Gilmore, former president of the Royal College of Physicians, told GPs at the annual RCGP conference in Liverpool that they could act as ‘powerful advocates’ for change and help to influence decision-makers within and outside healthcare.
In his speech, he said GPs were well-placed to understand their communities and their public health knowledge base would be an important factor in closing the widening gap.
He said: ‘While the solutions [to health inequalities] are largely outside healthcare, I think effective individuals and communities need the support of the health system, particularly their most effective voice, the doctors, to help create enabling conditions for them to take action.’
He described health inequalities as a ‘national shame’ that could ‘only be remedied through social justice’, which he urged GPs to lend their voice to.
This should include pushing for better early-years care and education, as well as policies that can reduce health inequalities.
Professor Gilmore said it was also important to recognise the opportunities to improve public health in the NHS reforms.
He said: ‘Reorganising the health service is dangerous and we have to be aware of the risk of moving the pieces of the jigsaw around. But there are opportunities, and I think we have to use those.
‘I think CCGs are really powerful opportunities. The CCG in Liverpool has been really dynamic in putting together a healthy Liverpool programme concentrating on prevention of disease. Health and wellbeing boards undoubtedly give us an opportunity, as does the move of public health into local government in getting local authorities on board, and that is absolutely key.’