Partnership working is a critical tool to addressing health inequalities - the causes of the deep-seated inequalities we have as a nation cannot be addressed by any one agency working alone. Different skills, different relationships and different approaches need to be brought together to understand issues better and co-design local solutions.
Enter the voluntary, community and social enterprise sector (VCSE) - for which many of the practical solutions proposed in the Due North report on health equity are bread and butter: promoting credit unions; benefits advice; supporting healthy child development; and empowering involvement in democratic processes such as participatory budgeting.
Much of the sector's work is with the poorest communities - those experiencing the worst health outcomes. Regional Voices has outlined possible actions VCSE organisations could take to impact on health inequalities, particularly between the North and South, in the briefing Due North: A Voluntary, Community and Social Enterprise Sector Perspective. There is much the sector can do, locally and nationally, as service providers, employers, a source of intelligence, campaigners, partners...
There is also much that the public sector (including public health, the NHS, councils, local enterprise partnerships and central government) can do to develop the conditions to allow the VCSE to work in partnership to address health inequalities. There needs to be investment of time and resources, working together. Austerity has hit the sector hard. Re-organisations make it all the harder to maintain trusted relationships. And there are unnecessary structural barriers to VCSE commissioning, which means it can be hard for the sector to participate, even when it has much to offer.
This is starting to be recognised: NHS England, for one, is acting to reduce the time and complexity for charitable and voluntary sector partners to secure local NHS funding. PHE, NHS England and the Department of Health have also commissioned a review of the impact of central government grants to the sector. But there are still barriers.
If you can, go to the Health Equity North: One Year On conference on 19 February, in Chester, and make sure you hear from Tony Dylak from the Royds Community Association in Bradford, and Warren Escadale from Regional Voices' partner Voluntary Sector North West, who'll be talking about the contribution from voluntary, community and social enterprise sectors.
Jo Whaley from Regional Voices will also be at Health Equity North: One Year On, talking about Comparing Apples with Oranges - How to make better use of voluntary and community sector evidence to improve health outcomes
Regional Voices is a Health and Care Voluntary Sector Strategic Partner to Public Health England, NHS England and the Department of Health.
Featured homepage image: Angel of the North, Anthony Grist. Used under Creative Commons