Regional Economic Partnerships play a crucial role in tackling health inequalities in Scotland

Jo Winterbottom, Organisational Lead for Regional Economies and Health, Public Health Scotland.

Jo Winterbottom, Organisational Lead for Regional Economies and Health, Public Health Scotland.

Jo Winterbottom, Organisational Lead for Regional Economies and Health at Public Health Scotland, shares her reflections on two years embedded in Glasgow City Region Programme Management Office.

The new Cabinet Secretary for Wellbeing Economy, Fair Work and Energy has recently reinforced the Scottish Government’s commitment to driving forward regional economic empowerment. Therefore, now is a good time to share the learning from the collaboration between Public Health Scotland (PHS) and Glasgow City Region (GCR) and consider the role that Regional Economic Partnerships in Scotland can play in tackling health inequalities.

The overall aim of the PHS Regional Economies and Health programme was to explore and develop effective working arrangements with Regional Economic Partnerships to maximise opportunities to improve health and reduce health inequalities. Population health and wellbeing is inextricably interlinked with economic outcomes. It is well recognised that a healthy workforce is crucial for productivity. Health and social care is also a major sector of the economy.

However, more significant is the potential of effective regional working to impact on population health at scale through joined-up policies that affect the building blocks and wider social determinants of heath (e.g. housing, transport, spatial planning, infrastructure, digital connectivity, skills and enterprise).

The two-year collaboration between PHS and GCR has contributed to some significant achievements. As part of the GCR team I supported the development of the Regional Economic Strategy, providing public health evidence and data and influencing the text. The published GCR Economic Strategy identifies health as a key transformational opportunity for the Region. We are now using an integrated impact assessment screening process to ensure the action plans deliver on this ambition. In addition, there is continued commitment to a “whole region” approach to tackling child poverty and a comprehensive programme of work on Community Wealth Building.

A number of factors have made the work easier. The Health Foundation funding for the Economies for Healthier Lives Project provided focus and momentum. Joint training opportunities helped us to develop common language. I benefitted from learning shared by colleagues in English Combined Authorities. The willingness and commitment from the GCR team enabled strong working relationships.

The challenges presented by the sometimes cluttered and ever-changing landscape have been overcome by taking a flexible “whole systems approach”. Navigating complexity has relied on solid relationships making the most of “policy windows” as they emerge. We have worked to test approaches at a range of levels, responding to events as required as well as attempts to lever longer term systems change. Much of the work has involved making connections and a facilitation role. For example, PHS becoming a policy partner of the SIPHER Consortium will enable use of modelling tools by a wider audience.

As we move to the implementation phase of the Scottish Government’s Regional Policy Review, it will be important to grasp opportunities to achieve Health in All Policies at a regional level. This will include ensuring health and wellbeing considerations are central to developments in relation to data and intelligence to harness the potential of any future funding and investment that may be routed through Regional Economic Partnerships. Achieving this requires us to build on existing and develop new ways of working across public health and economic development at a national, regional and local level.

If you want to share your experiences or find out more or please join us for the SHRED webinar “Harnessing the power of Regional Economic Partnerships to tackle health inequalities in Scotland” on Friday 19th May 2023, 1300-1400. Register to attend here: SHRED Webinar . The final report on the PHS/GCR Collaboration can be found here. You can also join in with ongoing discussion with members of The Health Equity Network.

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