Speaking up against health inequalities: the role of communications
Health inequalities are avoidable, unjust and systematic differences in health between different groups of people.1 They are a complex and growing issue, impacting individuals across the globe at all stages of the health journey.
It is not a small nor straightforward topic. Health inequalities involve a range of differences in health measures, including health status and access to and experience of healthcare. Disparities in these experiences are often dictated by differences in an individual’s or group’s wider determinants of health. These include a diverse range of social and economic factors such as income, housing and education, but also an individual’s attitude towards, and trust of, the healthcare system.
At Aurora, we are on an ongoing journey to better understand health inequalities, their causes and the impacts they have. As an agency, we are committed to identifying and actioning what we can do, together with our clients and partners, to help tackle the issue.
Getting the data right
Data is vital for driving actionable insights and identifying solutions to health inequality challenges. We need data to understand the root causes of the issues, and to direct the focus of interventions and solutions. However, when it comes to data, we must focus on quality rather than quantity and ensure that data collection around protected characteristics, such as race, disability and sexual orientation, is not forgotten about or deprioritised.
The balance must be right between collecting valid, insightful data, and taking solution-focused action. We must not fall into the trap of ‘analysis paralysis’ and instead ensure we have the confidence to communicate and act on the insights we gather.
This is a challenge that NHS leadership are facing, with crucial projects and interventions such as the NHS Workforce Plan being delayed due to ongoing analysis and repeated reconsiderations at a national level.2
The role of health literacy
Health literacy refers to having the appropriate skills, knowledge, understanding and confidence to access, evaluate and use health information and services.3 It is fundamental to achieving health equality and needs to be carefully considered when developing health materials, resources and communications for patients.
The average reading age across the UK is 9-11 years, yet health information and resources often don’t reflect this. It is estimated that 42% of working-age adults in England are unable to understand and make use of everyday health information.3
A bottom-up approach
Collaboration is key. We need to be united in our approach to tackling health inequalities and work collectively with partners across the healthcare landscape when setting strategic vision with our clients. Not only is collaboration with patients essential, but alliance with communities, health services and third parties is vital to enable innovative solutions and to drive change.
Building trust with communities is fundamental to facilitate engagement. The ask from the community needs to be clear, ensuring that the right language and appropriate channels are used to reach these audiences.
How can we drive change within communications
With a topic as vast as health inequalities, we have of course only scratched the surface. It is a topic that we at Aurora feel passionately about and will continue to work with our clients towards a systematic and sustained approach to drive change. To do this, we need to consider:
- As communicators, we know talking about the problem can only do so much. We need to be adopting a behaviour change mindset to find tangible solutions relating to the modifiable risk factors of health
- It is vital that we are listening to the voices of individuals with lived experience. As a communications agency, we have a responsibility to involve patients and people with lived experience when developing health communications and resources to ensure that they are ‘fit for purpose’ and sensitive to the literacy and needs of their relevant audiences. Partnering with voluntary, community and social enterprises (VCSEs) and grassroot organisations is crucial to understand the needs of communities when developing interventions. These organisations need to be brought in from the very start and not just to test the credibility of something already developed
- Action required to bring about change is universal and will take time. We, and the clients we partner with, have a responsibility to ensure reducing health inequalities runs through the everyday work that we do, to share learnings and to not be afraid to adapt practices as we go
If you’d like to find out more about our work in reducing health inequalities, behaviour change, patient engagement or the other strategic practices we offer at Aurora, get in touch at email@example.com
- The Kings Fund. What are Health Inequalities? Available at https://www.kingsfund.org.uk/publications/what-are-health-inequalities. Last accessed July 2023.
- UK Parliament. Latest NHS reforms will not succeed until Government fixes longstanding problems. Available at https://committees.parliament.uk/committee/127/public-accounts-committee/news/185951/latest-nhs-reforms-will-not-succeed-until-government-fixes-longstanding-problems/. Last accessed July 2023.
- Public Health England. Local action on health inequalities. Improving health literacy to reduce health inequalities. Available at https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/460710/4b_Health_Literacy-Briefing.pdf Last accessed July 2023.