Reducing inequalities in communities: closing the health gap in central Bradford

Dr Sohail Abbas, Deputy Clinical Chair and Strategic Clinical Director of Population Health and Wellbeing in Bradford District and Craven Clinical Commissioning Group and Chair of the West Yorkshire and Harrogate health inequalities network, describes the important work being done in central Bradford as part of the reducing inequalities in communities (RIC) programme.

As you drive across Bradford district, leaving the rural towns and villages to head into the centre, not only does the landscape change, but life expectancy also changes. Within a short drive of 10 miles, the average healthy life expectancy drops by 20 years. It is this stark inequality which led us to develop the RIC programme, a collaborative programme of work I am really proud to be a part of.

RIC is a new approach to tackling health inequalities in our area. It challenges the traditional ways of commissioning and provision, and enables working across organisations, establishing networks and relationships, and gathering people around one vision and one purpose. It is made up of 21 projects which have been designed to help improve people’s health and tackle inequalities at different stages of life.

The programme involves over 50 different organisations, and represents the passion, enthusiasm, engagement, communication, teamwork, collaboration, creativity and innovation of the people working in our health, care and voluntary, community and social sectors to work together to improve outcomes.

In March, Dr Bola Owolabi from NHS England and NHS Improvement came to visit the RIC team in Bradford to see some of the RIC projects in action, focussing on two services which play a unique and crucial role in reducing health inequalities.

The first visit was to Bevan Healthcare, to see the healthcare support provided to homeless people, asylum seekers and vulnerable women in central Bradford. These groups typically face poorer outcomes and find it harder to access care, so the RIC projects have been established to improve equity of access. The support offered through this work includes:

  • specific clinics (utilising an outreach bus to improve access)
  • crisis response to people who are homeless
  • a dedicated role to provide additional support to improve/maintain independence
  • access to psychologically informed care

This combination of functions enables the team to provide holistic health, care and housing support packages to homeless people.

The team then visited the Bradford Doula project which supports women and their families during pregnancy. The service provides non-medical support and is delivered by a combination of trained volunteers and locality officers. Not only did we hear about the positive impacts for the women from having a ‘professional friend’ at birth, we also heard about the benefits the volunteers gain themselves, with several people having gone on to train to become midwives themselves.

In this video Dr Bola Owolabi met some of the Doulas and women and babies being helped by the scheme.

Seeing these two project teams share their work with Bola reminds me of the words of Hafiz Sheraz, the great Persian poet of the 14th century – “Every foundation you see is faulty, except that of Love, which is faultless”.  The commitment of everyone involved in the RIC programme makes me certain that RIC is a story of love and dedication to improve outcomes.

We are thrilled that Dr Owolabi has been able to take the time to visit Bradford and see the important work we are doing on the ground as part of the RIC programme.  Our next steps are to evaluate the impact of our range of projects, and to build the evidence of ‘what works’, so that they can be extended more widely.

To find out more about the RIC programme and the projects, organisations and people involved:

Photograph of Dr Sohail Abbas, Deputy Clinical Chair and Strategic Clinical Director of Population Health and Wellbeing in Bradford District and Craven Clinical Commissioning Group and Chair of the West Yorkshire and Harrogate health inequalities network

Sohail has been working in the NHS since 2003 and has previously worked as the Clinical Chair of Bradford City Clinical Commissioning Group and Clinical Director of Community Services in Salford Royal Foundation Trust. He is also a GP partner in Bradford City and a GP with special interest in diabetes. He holds the fellowship of the Royal College of General Practitioners, membership of the Royal College of Physicians, MSc in diabetes and an executive MBA.

Sohail is passionate about system working and harnessing the power of communities. In Bradford District and Craven, he is working with organisations, community partnerships and primary care networks to embed a population health management approach to reduce health inequalities and develop the district inequalities action plan alongside public health colleagues and system partners to address the wider determinants of health. As the Chair of the Integrated Care System Health Inequalities Network, he is working across places to raise awareness and build the capacity and capability in the system to tackle health inequalities.