Dr Francine Watkins, Senior Lecturer in Public Health and Director of the Master of Public Health Programmes at the University of Liverpool, discusses the issues that affect the quality of health within communities in the UK, and how a patient’s location may be a key factor in health inequality.
The number of people living in relative poverty in the UK has risen for the first time in nearly a decade, with almost 10 million individuals sitting below 60 per cent of the average household income. The figures, which cover 2014–2015, appear to coincide with government initiatives to reduce support for the poorest people in the country. Shockingly, child poverty has also risen by 200,000 to 2.5 million1 in the same time frame, which is the first increase since 2006.
The issue of poverty in the UK is topical, with changes to healthcare policies being publically scrutinised and NHS cuts set to reduce the number of community-health initiatives and interventions available within the community. These cuts will make it harder for individuals to gain access to the healthcare services they need. Deprivation is another factor consistently linked to higher rates of morbidity and mortality, and a lower uptake of healthcare services such as medication reviews and screening – which adds to the problem. As the gap between rich and poor increases, so does the issue of health inequality. This makes it all the more important for healthcare professionals to understand their role within the sector and address the ways in which they can improve the quality of health within their communities.
There are large variations in social determinants of health across the UK, and this strongly correlates with health outcomes. Where an individual lives and works are key factors that can impact on morbidity and mortality. Someone living in an area of high deprivation is more likely to have reduced access to quality education and good-quality housing, and this not only impacts on their health status, but also can affect their career and life choices. Poor-quality housing also correlates strongly with poor health and higher mortality rates.
Communities around the UK have different social, political and cultural backdrops that can impact on the success – or failure – of different health-improvement strategies, so having a localised understanding of the community is imperative. Within changing political and economic landscapes, public-health professionals need to continue to develop their range of skills and knowledge, because this can help them assess and tackle the breadth of issues they may face. Understanding localised data from a combination of sources can allow public-health professionals to develop and successfully inform policies and strategies, which can in turn contribute to reducing levels of poverty.
It is important for public-health practitioners to identify where health inequalities stem from within a particular community and, in some cases, their prevalence in wider society. Addressing the inequalities of social determinants will enable health inequality to be tackled. Healthcare professionals also need to have a good understanding of the organisation of health systems, because this will allow them to access the resources needed to implement effective strategies and interventions. However, public-health professionals should develop the necessary skills to interpret various data sources and manage their teams to successfully implement localised strategies, because this will allow them to tackle public-health problems.
It is essential for public-health professionals to ensure that they have the ability and skills to influence policy and decision-making at the highest level. Through the University of Liverpool’s fully online platform, students are part of a global classroom that enables them to clearly understand best practices and learn about other projects from around the world. Health professionals need to acquire the skills that will allow them to address health inequalities within their communities, regardless of where they are based. The development of all these skills is a fundamental part of studying for a Master of Public Health.
The online programmes at the University of Liverpool provide busy working professionals with the skills and knowledge they need, not only to develop effective prevention strategies and health-improvement schemes, but also to ensure they can confidently implement them by learning how to empower the communities in which they work. The online programme is designed to provide professionals with the opportunity to apply their learnings to their day jobs throughout the course of the programme, and implement strategies that will benefit communities without delay.
For more information about the online health programmes at the University of Liverpool, visit here.
 Households Below Average Income: An analysis of the UK income distribution: 1994/95-2014/15
 The NHS Atlas