24 April 2022

Policy on Health Inequalities

Our new policy on Health Inequalities tackles health systems’ impact on health inequalities, the impact of social determinants, and doctors’ role in reducing health inequalities.
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Many avoidable factors are known to contribute to and exacerbate inequalities in relation to mental and physical health and well-being, and to healthcare.

Doctors and other healthcare professionals have a duty to actively work on these issues to move towards universal and equal access to better health and healthcare. Moreover, authorities must follow the ‘Health in all policies’ principle to ensure coherent action to eliminate inequalities across all policy areas.

The policy makes the following recommendations:

  • To eradicate health inequalities, it is necessary to follow the ‘Health in all policies’ principle and take coherent and conducive action across all sectors, including housing, education, transportation, urban planning, finance, agriculture, migration, and environment.

  • Poverty exacerbates health inequalities. Action against poverty remains a primary objective.

  • It is necessary to plan for and train a health workforce to sufficient levels to enable safe patient care. EU recommendations on minimum capacities should support national authorities.

  • National authorities must take action to eliminate financial barriers to accessing healthcare, in particular by preventing catastrophic out-of-pocket payments.

  • Pharmaceutical policy must ensure that access to medicines, including the affordability and availability, does not exacerbate health inequalities. 

  • Healthy lifestyles must be promoted by making healthy food available, accessible and affordable to all and by discouraging the consumption of and access to unhealthy foodstuffs, tobacco, and alcohol.

  • Member States must devote resources to improving environmental conditions in particular for the most vulnerable especially by promoting access to clean water and minimising the exposure to air pollution.

  • Investment in health literacy is key to informing about the right to health, enabling healthy choices and ensuring available services are known and made use of.

  • National authorities should, without delay, address deficits in access to healthcare for vulnerable patient groups such as the homeless, refugees, migrants, and other marginalised populations.

  • National authorities must build formal structures for translation services in the healthcare system, accompanied by funding for language interpretation services and ensure accessibility for persons with disabilities.

  • National authorities must counteract the ‘digital divide’ when implementing the digital transformation of health systems and be mindful of its effect on all population groups.

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