Doctors seeing more patients sick due to social and economic factors

The latest census from the Federation of the Royal Colleges of Physicians has revealed that, over the last three months, 55% of consultant physicians had seen more patients with ill health which they determined were due to social and economic factors.

This census of consultant physicians is conducted annually by The Medical Workforce Unit  on behalf of the Royal Colleges of Physicians, the Royal College of Physicians of Edinburgh and the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Glasgow.  

The preventable causes of ill health that the census refer to include mouldy or damp homes, poor air quality or education and employment. 

24% of those surveyed said that around half of their workload fall into these categories. 85%  say they are concerned about the impact of health inequalities on their patients. 

Professor Andrew Elder, president of the Royal College of Physicians of Edinburgh, said: ‘The findings from this census present a stark image of public health. Many doctors feel that the National Health Service is actually a national sickness service, dealing with the symptoms and signs of disease and limited in its ability to prevent that disease. That will remain the case for as long as we neglect the root causes of ill health. We must confront these head-on. That means better housing, cleaner air, better nutrition, better education and ensuring equitable access to basic necessities for health living.’

Mike McKirdy, president of the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Glasgow, said: ‘Doctors increasingly find themselves under unprecedented strain, grappling with mounting caseloads of patients whose ailments are directly linked to their living conditions.

‘Prevention is better than cure and we must see a concerted effort from across government and wider society to address the underlying socio-economic factors which perpetuate this cycle of illness and increased demand on the NHS.’

Dr Sarah Clarke, president of the Royal College of Physicians, said: ‘In the midst of unprecedented demands on the NHS and declining public health, it should be sounding alarm bells in government that so many doctors are seeing more patients with illness related to the wider determinants of health, such as housing or poor air quality. Everything from the food we eat to the air we breathe impacts our health. Good health is an economic asset.

‘It is clear that the responsibility for good health lies not solely with the NHS nor the Department for Health and Social Care – all of government must play a role. If we are to reduce these avoidable demands on the NHS, improve general levels of health across the nation, and create a healthier labour market, we must see a comprehensive, cross-government strategy to reduce health inequalities that tackles the things that make us ill in the first place.’


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