Doctors typically have very limited teaching or opportunities to understand how health policy is developed and implemented during their clinical training. Medical school provides us with a robust foundation in clinical knowledge, and we deepen that knowledge and experience throughout our careers. However, our experiences in health policy placements have made us realise that clinical knowledge alone is not enough if we’re going to participate in the transformational change needed in the health system to respond to the increasing complexity of the population’s health needs, or indeed to another global pandemic.
By working closely with a range of organisations within the health care system and speaking with senior NHS leaders and policy-makers, we have gained a much better understanding of how to implement change in the NHS. Our health policy placements have allowed us to identify problems and potential improvements for existing strategies of care. As GPs, we are in a privileged position as the first port of call for our patients, and this role allows us to be strong advocates and drive change in our local communities and even nationally. Likewise, our first-hand experience in day-to-day practice can provide clinical insight on new policy proposals.
Our experience of being immersed in health policy has shown us that demystifying the art and science of health policy is critical for doctors and needs to start at the beginning of their medical journey. If clinicians want to be able to influence how the health system works we need to, for example, understand the complexities of system redesign and quality improvement, as well as the policy-making process – and that takes time, along with headspace. Some GP training programmes have taken a leap already with integrated training posts, where trainees have an opportunity to do placements in areas such as population health, public health or medical education for one or two days a week. By encouraging medical students to explore health policy by embedding it in the curriculum, this can transform the next generation of clinical leaders and shape the players in the landscape of the NHS.
An understanding of health policy and how it is developed is crucial to influencing health and social care; clinical knowledge alone is not enough. Making health policy a mandatory component of our training, can urge clinicians to stop being at the periphery of these decisions but rather at the table.