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 explores the idea of the NHS as an ‘anchor institution’ – 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.
Citing widening economic and health inequalities, growing pressures on health care services, and increasing acceptance that good health is largely influenced by socioeconomic factors, the independent charity says there is now a ‘moral case’ for maximising the role of the NHS in improving peoples’ health and wellbeing, beyond just providing clinical care.
The report’s authors note that while the root causes of poor health are primarily driven by factors outside of its control, it is the NHS that ultimately deals with many of the consequences. With the NHS facing growing demands from an ageing population with increasingly complex conditions, it is important that it plays a more central role in reducing preventable ill health and tackling inequalities – key objectives outlined in the recently published NHS Long Term Plan.
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– the NHS employs more than 1.6 million people making it the UK’s largest employer and a vital source of economic opportunity.
- Purchasing and commissioning for social value– the NHS spends £27bn each year on goods and services in England alone. Decisions about what it buys, and how, impact on the health and wellbeing of local communities.
- Leveraging land and assets for community benefit– in England alone the NHS estate includes 8,523 trust and primary care sites across 6,500 hectares of land. Buildings and land not used for clinical purposes can be used to create community assets, such as affordable housing and green space.
- Leading on environmental sustainability– the NHS is responsible for 40% of public sector carbon emissions and any action the NHS takes on sustainability can have a significant overall impact.
- 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.