The role of businesses in reducing health inequalities

During the pandemic, businesses demonstrated high levels of support for the NHS and played a key role in supporting our COVID-19 response and vaccination programme through their corporate social responsibility (CSR) practices, demonstrating positive influence and impact on their workforce, customers, partners, supply chains and the wider community.

We now want to explore and expand the role that businesses and industry can play in reducing health inequalities. This can include steps that organisations can take as ‘anchor’ institutions; intentionally orientating their employment and procurement practices to support the places where they operate. It can also span the sphere of the use of assets and resources to enhance social and economic conditions as well as through local place-based and national partnership working with the NHS.

I was delighted to co-host an insightful roundtable event alongside Lord David Prior, Chair of NHS England and Professor Sir Michael Marmot, Director of the University College London Institute of Health Equity, to explore these topics with industry representatives. We brought together organisations from a variety of sectors to explore how the NHS and the private sector can work in partnership to further reduce health inequalities, address the social determinants of health, develop a network of support to maximise influence and impact across the sector and discuss what actions and outputs are required to drive demonstrable impact.

Over the two hours, we heard some brilliant examples of where the private sector is already delivering work in this field through employment, operations, the Green agenda and working with communities. We also shared examples of where the NHS is already making an impact through private sector partnerships, including from our Greener NHS team who have been making significant in-roads through these collaborations towards achieving our Net Zero ambitions.

Drawing from the rich discussions at the roundtable, we have developed 10 actions that the private sector can take in contributing to reducing health inequalities (please see infographic below). These are broad areas that we hope provide a working frame for organisations with ambitions to make great strides in this area.

 Download a PDF of the above 10 ways businesses can help to reduce health inequalities infographic

We now plan to work with our business colleagues in shaping a future event which will further support organisations to understand the role they can play and how they can partner with our NHS systems to make the biggest impact.

We know that some companies have been working to invest in health equity for some time. We want to learn from their experiences and support more organisations to engage in similar work. The NHS, as a learning organisation is committed to this joint endeavour of strengthening our knowledge base in this area, broadening our horizon and taking collective action to narrow the health inequalities gap.

I want to thank everyone who attended the roundtable last week for their contribution to such a rich and impactful discussion and hope they and many others will join us for a wider conversation at another event that we are planning for the near future.

As Sir Michael Marmot says, “Businesses can be a far greater force for good in society if we work to identify areas where they can sustainably and positively impact people’s lives”.

Let’s work together to make the business of reducing health inequalities, everyone’s business.

Dr Bola Owolabi

Professor Bola Owolabi (MRCGP, MFPH Hon, FRSPH) is Director of the National Healthcare Inequalities Improvement Programme at NHS England. She works as a General Practitioner in the Midlands.

Bola has particular interest in reducing healthcare inequalities through integrated care models, service transformation, and using data insights for quality improvement. She has spearheaded NHS England’s Core20PLUS5 approach to narrowing healthcare inequalities.

Internationally, Bola was a member of the Danish Ambassador’s Tour De Health – a ten nation healthcare policy leaders’ summit. Additionally, she was the UK representative on the Commonwealth Fund/Academy Health Tour 2023, exploring equity in national health policy across the United States, Australia, New Zealand and Singapore.

She was previously National Speciality Advisor for Older People and Integrated Person-Centred Care at NHS England, where she led the Anticipatory Care workstream of the National Ageing Well Programme. She collaborated with teams across NHS England and the Department of Health and Social Care as part of the Covid-19 pandemic response.

Bola is an alumna of Ashridge Executive Education/Hult International Business School and holds a Masters degree with distinction in Leadership (Quality Improvement). She also received an NHS Leadership Academy Award in Executive Healthcare Leadership for Clinicians.

Bola is an Honorary Professor at the Institute of Applied Health Research, College of Medicine and Dentistry, University of Birmingham. She is also a Vice President of the Royal Society of Public Health (RSPH).