Social determinants and health inequalities pose a significant challenge to governments around the world. The Brtisih Medical Association's new report (Oct. 2011) explains how doctors can use their expertise to act as community leaders to tackle this issue and explores how the social determinants of health are factors that impact on health and well-being for which there is little control, for example, where we are born, grow up, live, work and our gender and age.
While these factors are not usually directly responsible for illness they have been described as the causes of the causes of illness. For example, while smoking may lead to heart disease and lung cancer, it is the social, including cultural and environmental factors, that largely determines whether an individual is more or less likely to smoke, and if they do start to smoke whether they are likely to quit successfully.
The report emphasises that while not every doctor has the opportunity to change the life course of individual patients they can make a difference in others ways to reduce health inequalities on a local, regional, national and international level.
It highlights examples of work doctors and their teams are already involved in, these include the Bromley-by-Bow centre in East London where GPs refer patients to professionals from welfare, employment, housing and debt advice services so that the underlying causes of their health problems can be addressed.
Other examples of doctors linked to projects that deal with the needs of the homeless in Glasgow and doctors initiating deaf awareness training so that the health needs of this group was given greater priority.