Leading charities are calling on Holyrood to take action to tackle the health crisis

NINETEEN of Scotland’s most influential health charities have called on the Government to urgently tackle rising health inequalities – and are calling for widespread social prescribing and collaborative working.

Appeal is worth a the report published by the Health, Social Care and Sport Committee, which identified a serious health inequality crisis in Scotland and called the policy measures taken to date inadequate.

Movement for Health (MFH) – a coalition of charities including SAMH, Chest Heart and Stroke Scotland, Age Scotland and Paths for All – supports the committee’s recommendations and reiterates its call for the Scottish Government to adopt a national approach to social care, which urgently needs co-ordinated and preventive actions.

The main recommendation made by the committee is to include community workers (CLW) in doctors’ offices to ensure that social prescriptions are used correctly – a move supported by the MFH, which emphasizes its importance and believes that improvements will be almost immediate.

Social Referral is a way for local agencies to refer patients to a caseworker for support outside of health services to tackle social determinants through community organisations, local support groups and holistic centers over a number of sessions where physical activity can be a key area focus.

Dr Emma Lunan, chair of Movement for Health, said: “The double whammy of the pandemic coupled with the cost of living crisis means that poorer areas of Scotland are now noticeably unhealthier overall than wealthier ones.

“There is currently no comprehensive strategy to tackle health inequalities in Scotland. This needs to change and we agree with the committee’s recommendations to develop a strategy or set of principles to guide policy making to ensure that all levels of government make a positive contribution.

“More investments should be made in social recipes. An underrated process can improve outcomes for people by giving them choice and control over their lives, and can even improve their sense of belonging when they participate in community groups.

“Proactive steps are needed to ensure that the future design and delivery of public services properly recognizes and meets these needs, particularly those of the most disadvantaged. Groups like MFH will be key to bridging the knowledge gap between different cultures and settings.

“Received social prescription as a vital tool needed post-pandemic to improve the nation’s mental and physical health. Investing in the process means we can serve and understand that different areas of Scotland have different needs and require different levels of support.

“The charities involved in MFH represent a significant proportion of those who are disadvantaged by modern services and the group is ready to work together with the relevant authorities to ensure that social prescriptions are more widely available.

“If the committee’s findings confirm anything, it’s that tackling health inequities must be a top public health priority because lives literally depend on it.”

The MFH Coalition found that the report provided a comprehensive overview of the lack of engagement between portfolios and the cross-committee review found that current policies lacked strategic coordination, ultimately exacerbating existing inequalities.

The coalition believes that the solution will not be a one-size-fits-all approach, so it is important to have diverse voices early on if we are to achieve meaningful change.

There are already social purpose schemes which include a range of activities which are usually run by voluntary organizations and community organisations. Examples include volunteering, artistic activities, group learning, gardening, friendship, cooking, healthy eating tips and sports. Physical activity is a key component, providing health benefits as well as connecting to communities.

With increasing pressure from the Scottish Government for action following the publication of the report’s findings, and coalitions such as MFH becoming increasingly vocal, social prescribing services will require leadership, collaboration with relevant industry experts and funding to meet their goals.

Emma added: “The negative impact of current action to tackle inequality cannot be underestimated and it has caused a great deal of stress and anxiety for individuals, families and whole communities in Scotland.

“The recommendations of this report are encouraging and offer a way forward to significantly increase the level of effort and resources invested in addressing health inequities.”

Movement for Health is a Scottish coalition of 19 leading health charities advocating physical activity for people with long-term conditions.

These include: Age Scotland, Alliance, Alzheimer Scotland, Breast Cancer Now, Asthma and Lung UK, Chest Heart & Stroke Scotland, Diabetes UK, Macmillan Cancer Support, MS Society, Parkinson’s Scotland, Paths for All, RNIB, SAMH, Scotland Versus Arthritis , Stroke Association, VHS, Waverly Care, Scottish Disability Sport and Community Leisure Scotland.

With four main missions, Movement for Health works to raise awareness among health professionals, physical activity and sport providers, policy makers and the general public, providing research, resources and policy action to support those affected to become more active.

For more information on Movement for Health, visit: https://www.movementforhealth.scot/

Urgent action needed on Scotland’s dismal health inequalities