Archive for the ‘Health’ Category

International comparison proves the UK is a pioneer in tobacco control

Posted on: April 24th, 2024 by Morgan Arnold

Following its initial announcement at Conservative Party conference last year, the legislation proposed by Prime Minister Rishi Sunak to gradually ban the sale of tobacco has passed its first vote in Parliament. 

Aiming to create a “smoke-free generation”, the proposals would take effect from January 1st, 2027 and prohibit the sale of tobacco to individuals aged 15 or under.  

This marks a pivotal moment in public health policy. Despite years of anti-smoking measures, more than 6.4 million individuals are still smoking in the UK, and it contributes to approximately 150 new cancer cases daily.  

The UK isn’t unique. Smoking is a huge burden globally, claiming over 8 million lives annually and remains the leading cause of premature death. To alleviate this burden, almost all governments have moved forward with anti-tobacco measures.  

When facing common challenges, countries rarely move in complete isolation. MHP’s Pressures and Perspectives report, published in 2023, highlighted how health policymakers regularly look to other countries and international bodies for policy inspiration, evidence and support.  

The World Economic Forum (WEF) has previously highlighted six countries’ plans to bring in “smoking bans”. Yet, since WEF originally catalogued these national plans in August 2023, some of these countries have backtracked or diluted their proposals.  

That looks unlikely to happen in the UK. 

The ban has significant support among voters of the three main parties, with 72% of Conservative voters, 76% of Labour voters, and 76% of Liberal Democrat voters expressing favour towards the initiative.  

New Zealand: From leader to laggard  

The announcement of the UK’s government’s plans last year drew comparison with New Zealand’s efforts, who on 26 July 2022, were the first country in the world to propose and subsequently pass a tobacco law to ban smoking for the next generation, with implementation planned for July 2024.  

This law was scrapped when a new administration prioritised cigarette sales revenue for tax cuts, sparking debate over short-term financial gains versus long-term public health benefits. This shift highlights the ongoing tension between economic interests and public health priorities in tobacco control strategies. 

In the UK, the scrapping of New Zealand’s plans led to a Telegraph headline ‘Sunak goes it alone’, with Conservative MPs on the right of the party calling Sunak’s plan ‘eccentric’. Clearly, some stakeholders in the UK are leveraging changes in direction in other countries to persuade the government to back down. 

Portugal: Half-measures? 

Meanwhile, Portugal has embarked on its own journey towards a smoke-free future by 2040, introducing legislation to  restrict tobacco sales to certain retailers and prevent the establishment of new smoking areas. However, the government has faced criticism and opposition from trade associations, with the national association of fuel retailers calling the plan unfair and disproportionate.  

Delays and changes to the legislation caused an intervention from national and international medical associations. They castigated the government for their historic inertia and misalignment with World Health Organisation guidance. 

Most of the proposed changes to Portugal’s tobacco law have faced delays following the dissolution of Parliament and subsequent election. Despite this, there have been new standards for heated tobacco products since January 16, 2024. The new (centre right) government is currently being sworn in and we will learn shortly whether Portugal will be more like the UK (where a centre-right Prime Minister is leading an anti-smoking charge) or New Zealand (where a centre-right Prime Minister has abandoned the ambitions of a previously left-wing government).  

Will the UK be a trend-setter? 

With rising costs from non-communicable diseases, particularly among lower-income countries, and the most deprived groups in higher-income countries, we can expect that other countries will be watching closely to gauge the impact of the smoking ban in the UK.  

Interviews with policymakers have shown that if above-country bodies like the World Health Organisation or European Union start to support such action – even without legally binding states – that will accelerate adoption.  

Regardless of its international impact, what is more certain is that the UK smoking ban will be implemented. Cross-party support means that a change of government is unlikely to have the same effect as seen in Portugal or New Zealand. 

 

Redesigning Health: Insights on innovation to improve population health

Posted on: April 16th, 2024 by Morgan Arnold

As we approach the second anniversary of the establishment of Integrated Care Boards, this first discussion benefited from the insights of system leads and those participating in them, by looking at the role ICBs can play in delivering innovation to improve population health.   The purpose of the series is to explore current and future trends in healthcare with a focus on how health systems can be redesigned centred on prevention and improving population health – with support from all parts of the health ecosystem: public sector, industry, academic and medical research charities, and NGOs.

A number of key themes emerged from the discussion, including:

  • The availability of resource at the front line of innovation delivery
  • whether individual participating bodies are ‘innovation ready’ – it was observed that the NHS is good at running and evaluating pilots but that those deemed successful do not always get widely implemented in any case, and
  • the need for prioritisation – focusing on ‘priority areas’ and doing them well rather than trying to engage in dozens of unrelated projects

More broadly, roundtable also discussed the challenge of multimorbidity and the role innovation – both service and product – has to potentially free up GP time and enable them to provide greater support to this cohort of patients; the value that patient and public involvement brings to the co-creation and design of research and innovation; and the convening role that ICBs have in the innovation ecosystem and especially to encourage multisectoral collaboration.

The following two roundtables will build on today’s event:

  • In July, the theme will be Remodelling public health through data, and will focus on how data and AI are now the new engineering that can help prevent disease – in much the same way as Sir Joseph Bazalgette’s sewerage system did for infection in nineteenth century London.  AI is new and has positives and negatives – and as with the broader use of health data for research, planning and innovation there are ethical implications which if not managed correctly can result in public distrust. This roundtable will seek discuss the medico—ethical challenges alongside the opportunities and how we can ensure innovations to improve the public’s health are not hindered, whilst at the same time ensuring trust is not damaged.
  • The third and final roundtable in September will discuss Investing in prevention:  post-pandemic global health and will consider how a combination of geopolitical and economic pressures combined with post-Covid 19 recovery across the world means that the resources to support prevention are being tightened at a time when greater investment is required.  How can we ensure new innovations can be developed and reach the public but are not hindered due to lack of funding?  The session will also consider how health systems can prioritise innovations to prevent disease and how a multi sector approach can support investment in prevention.

To find out more, please email [email protected]

Getting a taste of PR: From Health Intern to Account Executive

Posted on: March 14th, 2024 by Morgan Arnold

Since the COVID-19 pandemic, health has been at the forefront of public consciousness. I am not a medic or a scientist (although I do have a first aid qualification!), but health and healthcare systems has always interested me, especially how they intersect with so many other areas like politics, economics, people, cultures, and geographies. This is what led me to apply for an internship in health communications and policy at MHP Group.

From my first week, it became clear that this internship was not just going to be a checkbox on my professional journey. I was empowered by the immediate trust I received from the team. I truly felt that they believed in my capabilities, and this not only validated my skills but also propelled me to excel and made me feel that I was contributing meaningfully to the projects I was working on.

It was great helping on so many accounts with clients ranging from large pharmaceutical companies and patient advocacy groups, to charities, doing activities like stakeholder mapping, monitoring, researching briefs, report writing, and so much more. I know it is a cliché, but no-two days were the same and as a result I have been able to learn so much about the healthcare space in such a short amount of time, alongside developing my professional skill set. I was also encouraged to voice my preferences for the accounts I would like to help on, which only made the whole experience so much more interesting.

On one occasion, I voiced that I would like to work on an account which focuses on mental health, as this is an area of personal interest to me. Not only did I get to help on this account, which ended up being even more fascinating than I had anticipated, but I was also able to contribue to a key piece of research for the project. During meetings with the team, I was able to share my insights regarding this research and felt that my work was greatly appreciated.

One of the things I enjoyed most was the variety of accounts and people I was able to work on and with. Each person I worked with, whether they were an Account Executive or an Account Director, was more than happy to take time to explain and go thorough things with me and let me ask questions, no matter how small and silly (believe me when I say there were a lot of these sorts of questions!).

I’ve also had the opportunity to attend work socials – karaoke and bowling based socials, and also team trips to the pub – which were incredibly fun and a good way to get to know and feel even more part of the time.

Since finishing my internship in October, I have been able to use the skills and ideas I learnt to carry myself forward into an Account Executive role which has given me the confidence and an opportunity to find and explore my interests. So, if you want an internship that is interesting, topical, challenging (in a good way, I promise) and with a lovely group of people, I could not recommend this internship highly enough.

To find out more about life at MHP Group, visit our careers site.

#InspireInclusion: Bridging data disparities to empower women from ethnic minorities in the UK

Posted on: March 8th, 2024 by Morgan Arnold

Despite advancements, data in healthcare, (or the lack of it) consistently show that women face unique challenges in accessing quality care and are disproportionately affected by health inequalities, especially women from ethnic minorities. This International Women’s Day (IWD), MHP explores the importance of addressing the gender health gap to empower women, especially those from ethnic minorities and foster inclusive practices, aligning with the spirit of International Women’s Day. 

In September 2023, the charity Wellbeing of Women, in association with MHP Group, convened the ‘Health Collective’ – a group of grassroots organisations passionate and committed to improving women’s health for all women, especially those from marginalised backgrounds. This Health Collective united to ensure improved inclusivity and outcomes in healthcare for Black women and other ethnic minorities. 

As we celebrate International Women’s Day in 2024 under the theme of “inspiring inclusion,” it is crucial to address and recognise the persistent disparities in healthcare access and outcomes that women face. Currently, the UK has the widest gender health gap in the G20 and the twelfth largest globally. 

A recent report published by McKinsey, entitled ‘Closing the women’s health gap: a $1 trillion opportunity to improve lives and economies revealed that in Canada and the UK, just 5.9 percent of grants between 2009-2020 went to research that looked at female-specific outcomes or women’s health. The data for research grants into women’s health from ethnic minorities is not readily available but is assumed to be drastically lower than 5.9 percent. In the UK, less than 2.5 percent of publicly funded research goes into reproductive health. It is very difficult to #inspireinclusion when these gaps in data exist.  

Dr Aziza Sesay, GP educator, Honorary Senior Clinical lecturer, host, speaker, health content creator and member of the Health Collective, said: 

“The theme for International Women’s Day, which is ‘inspiring inclusion’, is not about tokenism. Rather, it’s about thoroughly examining systems and working to improve them in order to benefit everyone. Data plays a crucial role in ensuring better outcomes for women, but often the methods of collecting this data are not accessible to all and can lead to biased results. The Health Collective, comprised of grassroots organisations, is essential in bridging gaps in these methods and building trust, while also amplifying the voices and expanding the reach of organisations already making a positive impact that can lead to better outcomes.” 

Health Inequalities Among Women from Ethnic Minorities: 

Women from ethnic minorities in the UK experience a multitude of health inequalities. In their report, the Health Collective identified that these range from higher rates of maternal mortality to increased prevalence of certain chronic conditions such as diabetes and cardiovascular diseases. These disparities are influenced by various factors, including socioeconomic status, language barriers, and systemic racism within the healthcare system.  

The report identified barriers marginalised groups are facing in accessing women’s health services and highlights inadequate gathering of health data as a barrier. This results in the emergence of significant evidence discrepancies in vital domains such as maternal mortality. Women are frequently more likely to be misdiagnosed and wrongly prescribed medicines due to the fact that they are underrepresented in medical research. Consequently, policies and interventions formulated on incomplete information fail to address underlying inequities. For example, women are 50 percent more likely to get an initial wrong diagnosis when they’re having a heart attack as ‘common symptoms’ are based off research which is reliant on the male experience. Additionally, whilst 1 in 10 women in the UK suffer from endometriosis, it takes around seven and a half years to get a diagnosis and women are frequently misdiagnosed due to the lack of research on this condition.  

Empowering Women Through Data-Driven Interventions: 

Data-driven interventions play a crucial role in empowering women from ethnic minorities to take control of their health and well-being. By leveraging data to identify high-risk populations, tailor interventions to specific cultural contexts, and monitor progress over time, healthcare providers can deliver more effective and equitable care. Furthermore, involving women, especially those from ethnic minorities in the co-design and implementation of healthcare initiatives ensures that services are appropriate and impactful for all, leading to improved outcomes and responsive healthcare services. 

The start of this year has brought some promising advancements and initiatives in this area. At the Women’s Health Summit, the Health Secretary, Rt Hon Victoria Atkins MP, said that in Britain, Black women are almost three times more likely to die whilst giving birth or shortly after than white women. Atkins also said that women of Asian ethnic backgrounds are 1.67 times more likely to die whilst giving birth or shortly after than white women.  Describing these figures as completely unacceptable, the Health Secretary announced the launch of the first ‘Research Challenge’ worth £50 million to tackle and address these maternity disparities from the National Institute for Health and Care Research. In short, the existence of such data paves the way for change.  

Similar schemes by industry are needed to ensure consistent and regular funding for grassroots organisations, diversity in clinical trials and providing resources to drive research, innovation and development. By investing in these programmes, industry can help change the paradigm of women’s health and ensure better healthcare outcomes for all. 

Conclusion: 

Despite positive movements, it is clear that progress is slow. Hologic, a leading innovator in women’s health, in their recent report and call to action, have concluded that women’s health is in a state of emergency, not just in the UK but globally. Data serves as a critical tool for understanding and addressing health disparities. Therefore, improving available data and ensuring inclusion in healthcare research are essential steps towards promoting inclusive healthcare practices.  

As we celebrate International Women’s Day in 2024, we must reaffirm the commitment to inspiring inclusion in healthcare by addressing data disparities and health inequalities among women and especially women from ethnic minorities in the UK. Industry, Government and health systems need to work together to ensure that the health of women is prioritised. By harnessing the power of data to inform policy and practice, fostering cultural competence within healthcare systems, and empowering women to actively participate in their own care, we can create a more equitable and inclusive healthcare landscape for all women, regardless of ethnicity or background.  

Wellcome appoints MHP Group

Posted on: March 7th, 2024 by Alexandra Stamp

Wellcome has appointed MHP’s Health team to deliver a programme of research as part of its mental health strategy work.

Working with Wellcome’s mental health team, MHP’s Health team will generate insights into the constructiveness of conversations in mental health research and convene members from across the field to explore and design ways to improve them. Wellcome hopes this can help foster a more cohesive and collaborative mental health research field in the future.

As part of its mental health strategy, Wellcome aims to create transformative change by developing new and better ways for earlier intervention to enable people experiencing mental health challenges to thrive. The emphasis is on funding a diverse range of researchers and driving greater collaboration among stakeholders in the field of mental health.

Alison Dunlop, Senior Director, from MHP’s Health, added:

“We are delighted to partner with Wellcome on such a critical and complex challenge, which will support the mental health research community to address mental health challenges globally. This appointment reflects the strength of our Health Communications capabilities, which combine deep health knowledge with broader strategic and creative expertise.”

MHP Health’s key clients include AstraZeneca, Takeda and Boehringer Ingelheim, with communications campaigns being delivered for a range of clients, including the World Bladder Cancer Patient Coalition, BeiGene, Santen, Myeloma UK and Bupa.

Navigating consumer health trends: Insights from leading health journalists

Posted on: February 22nd, 2024 by Morgan Arnold

The healthcare landscape is continually changing, driven by the unprecedented access to information at our fingertips. The increase in public health knowledge has sparked heightened interest in public health interventions, evident in the widespread support for recent initiatives such as smoking and vaping bans and action on obesity. This momentum may further drive discussions on issues such as the need for guidance on ultra-processed foods. 

The expansion of digital health tools, including wearable devices, coupled with the abundance of information on platforms like social media, has empowered individuals to take a more proactive role in managing their wellbeing. However, as information consumption continues to shift, with platforms like TikTok becoming increasingly influential, journalists face the challenge of navigating rapidly evolving trends and fads, such as vitamin-based hangover cures, to maintain readership. 

Amidst this saturation of information, it’s important to examine the benefits and drawbacks it brings. How can communicators, both in the media and within brands, adapt to the self-care revolution, where the public has unlimited access to enhanced health information? 

To explore these questions, we were joined by experts including Eleanor Hayward, Health Editor at The Times; Jennifer Savin, Features Editor at Cosmopolitan; and Shaun Lintern, Health Editor at The Sunday Times. Their insights offer valuable guidance for brands seeking to navigate and capitalise on the opportunities presented by this evolving landscape. 

Benefits to enhanced health information:

1. Increased health awareness and literacy amongst the public 

The public is becoming increasingly informed, proactive, and scientifically literate. This shift, partly fuelled by the COVID-19 pandemic and the constant flow of information across various media channels, presents a valuable opportunity for brands to tailor their services to meet the needs of the increasingly health-conscious consumer.  

2. People are taking ownership and responsibility for their health and flagging symptoms early  

With NHS wait times at record highs, many are turning to private healthcare and self-testing from pharmacies, particularly for illnesses such as tonsilitis, UTIs, and COVID-19. Brands can play a crucial role in providing accessible information resources to meet the growing demand. 

 Drawbacks to enhanced health information

1. Health anxiety is on the rise  

As awareness continues to grow, so does the prevalence of health-related anxiety amongst the public. This stems from the wealth of information accessible to us, often through apps and self-tests. 

2. Growing system pressures and information gap due to private testing  

The rise of self-testing creates a potential gap in professional follow-up, adding to the strain on already burdened healthcare systems. Can brands support this emerging issue by responsibly filling the information gap and fostering trust? 

So, what is the role of communicators in navigating these effects and how do they adapt their storytelling? 

Personal and audience-centric messaging is essential to drive engagement 

  • First-hand patient-led stories resonate the most with consumer audiences, as people seek personal connections and real-world impacts of health interventions – our panel mentioned that these are essential for any story to be covered. 
  • Complex scientific details should be presented in a clear, concise, and easily digestible manner, with supplementary information available for those who delve deeper. This ensures accessibility and understanding for a wider audience. 

Balanced and nuanced storytelling is key to build trust 

  • The panel emphasised the necessity to conduct thorough due diligence, share peer-reviewed studies, and offer independent expert opinions, to ensure credible and transparent reporting.  
  • Brands can support journalists with this by providing accurate and robust data, and readily addressing any product concerns to build trust with both media and consumers. 

The need to address inequalities in studies and messaging 

  • Journalists aim to ensure that their reporting considers disparities across age, socioeconomic status, and ethnicity to provide a comprehensive understanding of health issues. Where possible, brands should also offer this breakdown of information to ensure their storytelling is balanced and inclusive.  

For more information contact [email protected] 

NCDs: WHO matters?

Posted on: January 23rd, 2024 by Morgan Arnold

Why should we care about WHO?

The World Health Organization’s (WHO) primary role is to offer “science-based recommendations” regarding health policy to countries around the world. Through such recommendations WHO establishes “soft law instruments containing specific, concrete provisions”. In plain language, WHO wields no legal authority and member states are under no obligation to follow those recommendations, but it aims to set accepted standards for global health. WHO’s aims aside, do these recommendations actually matter for policymakers, patients and health system leaders?

Beyond infectious disease

During the COVID-19 pandemic, WHO was a high-profile, closely followed and relevant institution. Despite setbacks and mistakes during the height of the pandemic, the Organization demonstrated its unique capability to maneuver the transnational nature of infectious disease. WHO remains uniquely suited for global health diplomacy, due to its “constitutional mandate for the establishment of norms and standards, [and] high level of legitimacy”. However, this relevance in an immediate international crisis does not necessarily translate to noncommunicable diseases.

In our Pressures and Perspectives report, health policymakers from the EU5 told us that WHO does matter to them, as the recommendations and targets form a framework for national governments to be held to account locally, such as by the media or pressure groups.

Internationally coordinated efforts to address NCDs are relatively recent. At the turn of the millennium, WHO released the Global Strategy for the Prevention and Control of Noncommunicable Diseases. Subsequent agreements followed, such as the 2008 WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control and the 2008-2013 Action Plan on the Prevention and Control of NCDs. When it comes to NCDs, the three main tactics that WHO employs to combat NCDs from a treatment perspective (not a prevention perspective), are:

  • Policy development: WHO develops evidence-based policies and guidelines, which serve as a blueprint for national health systems to implement appropriate strategies, examples include the WHO Package of essential noncommunicable disease (PEN) interventions for primary health care in low-resource settings
  • Setting targets: WHO sets global targets by providing benchmarks and regular assessments, thereby encouraging countries to work towards specific goals and promoting accountability and fostering improvements in national health systems
  • Capacity development: WHO assists countries in assessing the capacity of their health workforce to handle NCDs, and providing resources to advise the strengthening of overall health system performance

But how have these policy documents and activities actually impacted national health policy?

25 by 25: a key target

More recently, in 2012, the 65th World Health Assembly published the resolution for a “global target of 25% reduction in premature mortality from non-communicable disease such as cardiovascular disease, cancer, diabetes, and chronic respiratory disease by 2025”, which was adopted by all 194 member countries.

At the time, it was discussed how challenging this target would be to meet. A paper published in Circulation modelled the region-specific estimates of some elements of the 25 by 25 target and found countries would have to conduct “region- and country-specific priority setting” in the form of identifying local risk factor trends and cost-effectiveness of interventions, and as a result, fund additional investments in health surveillance, in order to achieve the target.

Hypertension target

Within the 25 by 25 target, WHO published eight voluntary global targets designed to aid in the overall goal. These fall under two categories:

  • Risk Factors (biological and behavioral)
  • National Systems Response

One of these targets, relating to hypertension, one of the most important risk factors for heart disease, stroke and chronic kidney disease is: “25% relative reduction in the prevalence of raised blood pressure”. The same Circulation study mentioned above found all three pillars of global strategy would be necessary in order to achieve this hypertension target: surveillance, prevention and healthcare delivered through strengthened health systems. However, it was noted that the model showed that the impacts of the 25 by 25 target “differ significantly by world region.”

Hypertension globally today

This predicted regional variance has been shown to be true today, in a study published in the Lancet. This study, the first ever comprehensive global analysis of trends in hypertension, shows that although there has not been much change in the rate of hypertension in the world population in the last thirty years, the burden of hypertension has shifted from high-income countries to low- and middle-income countries. Senior author of the study and Professor of Global Environmental Health at Imperial College London, Professor Majid Ezzati, calls this a “public health failure”, citing the fact that hypertension is “easy to diagnose and treat with low-cost medicines”.

Indeed, four classes of hypertension medicines are included within the WHO PEN are explicitly designed to be implemented in ‘low resource’ settings and has been found to be implementable in many countries.

Clearly, even when WHO is developing and monitoring outcomes-based targets, and developing implementable guidance alongside it, this is no guarantee of success.

Hypertension in Sub-Saharan Africa

Hypertension poses a significant burden in Sub-Saharan Africa, affecting 46% of adults aged 25 and over. Rates of systolic and diastolic blood pressure have risen in Sub-Saharan Africa from 1975 to 2015, in contrast to most other regions around the world. In fact, hypertension has been described as “one of the continent’s greatest health challenges after HIV/AIDS”.

In response to WHO’s 25 by 25 hypertension target, the Pan African Society of Cardiology (PASCAR) developed a 10-point action plan, customised for the region, to be implemented by African ministries of health to increase the treatment and control of hypertension by 25% in Sub-Saharan Africa by 2025. The plan involves strategies for implementing hypertension into existing health services, such as those for HIV, as well as task-sharing with trained community health workers.

In South Africa, hypertension prevalence is growing substantially, and healthcare services are struggling to cope with the expanding disease burden. Task-shifting, as suggested by the PASCAR action plan, is being considered to reduce burden in overloaded clinics. South Africa historically has substantial experience with task-shifting, something else that WHO has advocated for, particularly in the context of working with HIV-infected patients. The implementation of such a policy change in the country could result in significant improvements in hypertension management and care.

WHO matters

This South African example underscores the considerable potential of WHO targets to drive local action. WHO may wield no formal legal power over states, but it clearly drives action. It plays an influential role in framing the discourse on NCDs and prompting further implementation and practice change. However, as we’ve seen, successful implementation depends on regional and local actors deploying evidence, argumentation and guidance from WHO.

The last few years have seen an increase in targets, guidance and reports on NCDs from WHO. On current trends, we would only expect that to increase. If done well, this could lead to more global to local action on NCDs and better outcomes for patients around the world.

Collectively Saluting Our Sisters

Posted on: October 31st, 2023 by Morgan Arnold

This year’s Black History Month theme, ‘Saluting our Sisters’, is about celebrating the exceptional achievements of Black women and their contributions to society, which have often been overlooked. Unfortunately, Black women have had, and continue to have, their “contributions ignored, ideas appropriated, and voices silenced.” But this month, we salute the contributions and hard work of Black women, focusing on those who have been marginalised in healthcare. 

On September 20th, 2023, the charity Wellbeing of Women in association with MHP brought together a diverse group of individuals, marginalised women, and organisations passionate about improving women’s health. This Health Collective united to lay a foundation for improving healthcare for Black women and other ethnic minorities. These communities are often referred to as ‘hard to reach’, which as a result, frequently leads to their needs being ignored. However, this event proved that these communities were not hard to reach but simply ‘easy to ignore’, as stated by the women’s health ambassador, Dame Professor Lesley Regan during the discussion. The event highlighted the incredible work being done at a grassroots level by organisations, community advocates, researchers, healthcare professionals, and charities. The aim of the collective is to ensure that the voices, knowledge, and experiences of women from ethnic minorities influence the delivery of the Women’s Health Strategy and consequently address stark health inequalities across society. The Health Collective are an example of those we celebrate through the theme ‘Saluting our Sisters’ as they are “women who move mountains, pioneering voices, women who are breaking barriers and women who lead”.  

Attendees shared their experiences as marginalised women in the healthcare system. Many explained that their work has been provoked by the experiences they have had to endure, which they hope they can prevent other women facing in the future and to compensate for the failures and inadequacies in the healthcare system.  

During the discussion, core themes were identified that consistently create barriers for women from marginalised groups in accessing healthcare or are a consequence of the barriers that women face. The themes outlined below were raised and will be discussed in more detail in our upcoming report.

Funding limitations for community organisations which support women’s health were mentioned, which consequently undermines their impact and reach. Often, these grassroot organisations miss out on major funding opportunities due to their small size, despite the impactful work they conduct. Additionally, the exclusion of marginalised communities in research, media and policy conversations is not conducive to developing services that provide equitable care and means that their voices are left out of policy decisions and outlook. This also contributes to and exacerbates the lack of tailored healthcare and education for women from ethnic minorities which often leads to failures in diagnosis and treatment. 

Lack of cultural competency and unconscious bias from healthcare professionals when delivering care to patients was a theme highlighted during the discussion. The failure to understand cultural and religious nuances and hesitancy suggests that clinical pathways have been designed through a white-centric lens. As such we should be reviewing this area in collaboration with marginalised communities.  

Maternal mortality was raised as an example of how healthcare services severely fail women from ethnic minority groups across the UK.  Recent research has shown that within the Black community, the rate of women dying in the UK between 2018–2020 during pregnancy or up to six weeks after the end of their pregnancy was 3.7 times higher and 1.7 times higher amongst Asian women, compared with to the White women in the study.

The achievements and work of these women, who often have little funding support, cannot be overstated. They have shown strength in the face of adversity, overcome trauma, and utilised it as a means of helping others. The Health Collective identified diverse roles and organisations supporting women’s health locally that run impactful community programmes and events targeting the needs of marginalised women. However, most operate in silos without widespread visibility. To create synergies, advocates across geographies and health therapies can collaborate via shared platforms, funding and events. The organisations and their activities include advocacy and support groups for a range of health conditions, culturally appropriate workshops on sexual health to reach women where they are e.g. in places of worship, providing menstrual products to tackle period poverty, educational workshops and events providing information surrounding stigmatised subjects such as menopause and much more.

More needs to be done from Industry to support grassroots organisations. Industry needs to come together and support organisations by providing core funding, resources and expertise to help drive research, innovation and education for the most marginalised communities. By investing in these programmes, Industry can help pave the way for better healthcare outcomes for all. Additionally, partnering with grassroots organisations can help foster much-needed trust and collaboration between Industry and these communities and improve the understanding of the unique challenges faced by women in healthcare. 

Whilst Black History Month provides an opportunity to salute the incredible work of our sisters, there needs to be continued engagement with the work they do. The Health Collective’s efforts have positively impacted many women’s lives and have addressed the significant gaps and disparities within the healthcare system. The Women’s Health Strategy is a step in the right direction towards addressing these challenges, and it’s heartening to see the Health Collective engaging with the Women’s Health Ambassador, Dame Lesley Regan. This gives us hope that the Government is committed to addressing the health of women from marginalised groups, and that it’s finally becoming a key political issue. Industry, Government and health systems need to work together to ensure that the health of marginalised women is prioritised.

By Shamilah Nyiramukwaya and Bella Smith

World Mental Health Day 2023: Digital services in increasing access to mental health services

Posted on: October 12th, 2023 by Morgan Arnold

This year’s World Mental Health Day theme is ‘Mental health is a universal human right’. In the UK the demand for mental health support continues to rise with nearly a quarter of patients waiting more than 12 weeks to commence treatment . Leveraging digital services is crucial to enhancing accessibility, efficiency, and effectiveness for mental healthcare in the UK. By exploring the advantages and drawbacks of digital services in mental health, light can be shed on the evolving landscape of mental healthcare and how the integration of digital services might impact access within the UK.

In September 2023, NHS Confederation published the report Maximising  the potential of digital in mental health, highlighting that at this moment in time “to do nothing is not an option”, and there is a significant opportunity to improve mental health care across the country. Providing digital solutions vastly increases accessibility to services, offering a lifeline to individuals in more remote or underserved areas, and providing support that may not have been available otherwise. Furthermore, it allows everyone to access care without the logistical challenges sometimes associated with traditional in-person care such as a lack of time, interference with other activities or transportation . This enables patients to access resources, therapy, and support groups at their own convenience around the clock. In addition, many digital mental health services are more cost-effective than traditional therapy. For example, in York University, internet delivered CBT is proving more cost-effective whilst delivering similar clinical outcomes .

Outside of the direct increases to access, proper usage of digital services can provide mental health patients with a level of anonymity, which can play a role in addressing the stigma associated with seeking mental health support. Social media is another important outlet for mental health patients, since January 1st 2023, “mental health” has been mentioned 2.18 million times on social media. While there can be pitfalls to social media, it is also full of high quality information from reliable influencers, some of whom have been mapped in the MHP Health Leading Health Influencers report.

However, the positive impacts may come with potential drawbacks. Socioeconomic disparities may be exacerbated through implementation, as not everyone has the necessary technology or internet connectivity to access digital mental health services. MHP Health held an event that touched on these themes through the provision of equitable healthcare for women with an accompanying report and video coming soon. With the use of any data sharing tools, privacy breaches are of concern and may deter potential service users due to previous, high profile security breaches within the NHS. Finally, an overreliance on digital services may discourage some individuals from seeking in-person help, which could potentially delay access to more intensive treatments where necessary.

Digital services have the potential to revolutionise mental healthcare within the NHS. Embracing their use can lead to greatly improved accessibility, efficiency, and quality of mental health care services. As digital solutions continue to evolve, they offer promising avenues for meeting the growing demand for mental health support in the UK. Nevertheless, there are important concerns regarding privacy, personalisation, the digital divide, amongst others. Striking the balance between digital and in-person mental health care is vital to ensuringe that individuals receive appropriate, effective, and personalised support. As the field continues to evolve, it is essential to consider both the promise and limitations of digital services in enhancing mental health care. The MHP Health team work with clients to navigate this dynamic landscape, leveraging the potential of digital and social media in health.

Mental health: When does a cabinet minister matter?

Posted on: September 11th, 2023 by Morgan Arnold

A Cabinet Minister for Mental Health was a novel, political, idea

In a letter posted on her Twitter during last week’s reshuffle,  former Shadow Cabinet Minister for Mental Health Rosena Allin-Khan noted that Keir Starmer “did not see a space for a mental health portfolio in a Labour Cabinet”, leading to her decision to step down from the role entirely. This prompted concerned reactions from stakeholders, including the British Medical Association (BMA) who called the end of the cabinet-level position “disappointing.”

The post of a Shadow Cabinet Minister for Mental Health was established in 2015 by Jeremy Corbyn in his first shadow cabinet. The role was given to Luciana Berger and after her resignation to Barbara Keeley. At the time of its creation, the post was briefed as signalling the importance of mental health to Corbyn. In 2016, it briefly became a political embarrassment when Corbyn temporarily scrapped the post, and then joined activists calling for it to be reinstated.

There is no post with the equivalent power, mandate, and focus in the government. For example, Maria Caulfield, the current Undersecretary of State for Mental Health and Women’s Health is a junior minister within the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC).

Caulfield is also responsible for disabilities, vaccines, the entirety of the UK Health Security Agency and patient safety. In short, a far cry from Labour’s former position of a cabinet-level minister with a sole focus on mental health.  Following Allin-Khan’s resignation, Abena Oppong-Asare has now been appointed as the Shadow Minister for Mental Health and Women’s Health, apparently shadowing the Government’s structure.

Having a Cabinet role was arguably an effective way to politically signal the importance of mental health, but was the role just that?

Policy signalling does not always lead to policy impact

For example, when Labour Prime Minister Harold Wilson established the “Department of Economic Affairs” (DEA) in 1964 its main achievement was arguably political, helping to paint an attractive picture of Wilson forging a new Britain with the ‘white heat of technology’.

Did the DEA’s establishment help Wilson deliver more for the economy? In itself, absolutely not. Wound up in 1969, whatever historians may argue about the DEA’s results and record, these same historians do tend to pay more attention to individual economic decisions like the devaluation of the pound. It didn’t start a lasting revolution and the Treasury, the institution it was supposed to change, remained as ‘orthodox’ as ever.

The history of the DEA and a potential Cabinet Minister for Mental Health are hardly carbon copies, but maybe there are some similarities to bear in mind.

When you look at it through this lens, the establishment of this post in the shadow cabinet, without any detail on how it could work in practice, feels like more of a political play than a principled, thought-through policy intervention.

How would a Cabinet Minister for Mental Health actually work?

Individual decisions, like those on social security, physical healthcare, immigration, housing will have considerable impacts on mental health.

If a minister for mental health just had responsibility for mental healthcare, then this would be seen as a missed opportunity to address these factors. There’s also no evidence a minister with this portfolio would be less effective sitting under the Secretary of State for Health, rather than parallel to them within the cabinet.

What if the role was extended so that decisions made by government outside of the direct purview of healthcare, but with an impact on mental health, like housing policy, would need to be reviewed by that minister? That would be radical, but probably unworkable. In essence, they would either have veto power over their colleagues’ departments or be made irrelevant and undermined by their colleagues. Neither seems entirely constructive for policy-making. In this case, a minister would be a distraction, not an enabler of delivery.

Ensuring real results

There are other methods you could try to weave a focus on mental health across and throughout government: a cross-departmental strategy; changing the way departments model the impact of their own decisions to give a weighting to improvements in mental health; a ‘tsar’ or arms-length champion for mental health like the Children’s Commissioner; adding it to the responsibilities of a minister in the cabinet office who already takes cross-departmental briefs. In fact, you could do all of those at once.

We have written before about how there is evidence, that serious policy plans, with momentum, do lead to better outcomes. It is not the case that what happens in ministries and Downing Street does not matter, but a minister alone does not maketh momentum.

Starmer’s mission focus

We do not know what would have happened if the first ever Cabinet Minister for Mental Health had taken a seat in the Cabinet room in Keir Starmer’s first Cabinet. We do not know what dynamics would have taken hold, or whether the minister would have been a political risk.

Nor did Keir Starmer. Given his ruthless aversion to risk, a decision which allows him to focus on the ‘missions’ which we know are central to Labour’s preparation for government, seems like a natural one to him. Those missions could clearly deliver for the nation’s mental health. A minister could distract from that delivery.

MHP Group’s Public Affairs team has placed Labour’s missions under the microscope in:  “Mission accomplished – MHP’s guide on what to expect from a Labour government”. Read it here