DHSC adds another string to bow as new body takes on health disparities

Office for Health Improvement and Disparities will be led by freshly-appointed deputy chief medical officer Jeanelle de Gruchy
Photo: PA

The Department of Health and Social Care will launch another new body next month, the Office for Health Improvement and Disparities, to be led by freshly-appointed deputy chief medical officer Jeanelle de Gruchy.

As DCMO for health improvement, De Gruchy will co-lead the new body alongside DHSC’s director general for public health, Jonathan Marron.

OHID will launch on 1 October and will aim to tackle health inequalities, many of which have been exacerbated by the Covid-19 pandemic.

It will focus on what DHSC called “preventable risk factors for poor health”, including poor diet and lack of exercise, smoking and alcohol consumption.

It will aim to improve access to health services and work with government departments to address the “wider drivers of good health” such as employment, housing, education and the environment., the department said.

“Health disparities across the UK are stark – for example, a woman living in Blackpool will on average live 16 fewer years in good health than a woman born in Brent, London and we know someone’s ethnicity can have a significant bearing on their health and health outcomes,” DHSC said in a statement.

“Health disparities can undermine people’s ability to work and live long healthy independent lives while creating pressure on the NHS, social care and other public services,” it said, adding that ill health among working-age people “costs the economy around £100bn a year”.

In a statement, DHSC said the body will be a “vital part” of the department.

De Gruchy brings "extensive local, regional and national experience"

As DCMO for health improvement – a job she started this week – de Gruchy advises government on clinical and public health matters.

Previously, she was director of public health for Tameside in Greater Manchester and president of the UK Association of Directors of Public Health. She has attended the Scientific Advisory Group on Emergencies, which has been providing the government with evidence to support its pandemic response, as an external expert on several occasions over the last 12 months.

Before that, she spent eight years as director of public health for Haringey in London, and was chair of the London Association of Directors of Public Health. Her other previous roles include a stint as deputy director of Public Health at Nottingham City NHS Primary Care Trust.

Chief medical officer Chris Whitty said de Gruchy “brings extensive local, regional and national experience to the role”.

“The Office for Health Improvement and Disparities has a lot of important and challenging work to do and Dr de Gruchy is well placed to ensure it delivers meaningful health improvements for people nationwide,” he said.

“The office will help inform a new cross-government agenda which will look to track the wider determinants of health and reduce disparities. The OHID will bring expert advice, data and evidence together with policy development and implementation to ensure action on improving health is better informed, more effective and more joined-up. It will bring together a range of skills to lead a new era of public health policies, leveraging modern digital tools, data and actuarial science and delivery experts.”

Health secretary Sajid Javid said: “The Covid-19 pandemic has exposed the disparities that exist within our country. We know the virus has had a greater impact on those with poorer health and we must ensure we give people the tools they need to maintain a healthy lifestyle, whilst relieving pressures on our NHS.

“By focusing on preventing and not just treating poor health, the Office for Health Improvement and Disparities will tackle health disparities to break the link between people’s background and their prospects for a healthy life.”

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