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Jet Bussemaker: ‘Health care is a social matter, not just a medical one’

Why are we unable to address health-care inequality? This was the topic of the inaugural speech of Professor Jet Bussemaker on Friday 15 February 2019. She analysed why current policy does not suffice when it comes to protecting vulnerable groups and fighting inequality. She proposed an agenda that gives new meaning to protecting and emancipating people.

Bussemaker believes that we should increase our focus on improving the health of vulnerable groups. ‘The health differences between people with a lower and a higher socioeconomic status are increasing. Social skills play an increasing role in keeping healthy, and people who are more privileged benefit more from this than those who are less privileged,’ Bussemaker explains. She was appointed Professor of Science, Policy and Impact in Healthcare on 1 July 2018. Alongside her work for the LUMC and the LUMC Campus in The Hague, Bussemaker works for the Faculty of Governance and Global Affairs (FGGA) at Leiden University in The Hague.

The Hague as living lab

Bussemaker gets the most out of her double appointment by also analysing health issues from the perspective of policy. ‘Policy, but also a lot of medical research, is based on averages and sectoral boundaries and guidelines, whereas many people face a combination of problems that diverge from the norm and can never be solved within the existing sectoral boundaries,’ she says.

In her position at the LUMC Campus in The Hague and the FGGA, Bussemaker wants to use the city as a living lab to analyse how policy plays out, for instance in the link between health and debt. She thus hopes to show how things could be done differently. ‘Take GPs who have patients who are in debt. We know that debt causes chronic stress and is associated with many health problems. Prescribing a pill is a temporary solution at the most, but it doesn’t address the real problem. We want to see if we can experiment with another approach.’  

Societal impact

Bussemaker calls for more attention to prevention in health care, and a focus on people with a range of social problems. ‘Science can help us discover the underlying causes of health problems and give people some prospect of improvement. That increases the societal impact of scientific knowledge.’

Bussemaker believes that health professionals play a crucial role here. ‘Medical students are trained with the idea that they should specialise as much as is possible. I want to encourage them – but practising doctors too – to look beyond the limits of their specialisation and to see patients through different eyes. I want to see engaged doctors who aren’t content just to treat symptoms but who, together with others, want to remove the societal causes of these symptoms. Health is not an individual matter but a social one.’

For more information read the inaugural speech ‘Health care as a social matter’ (in Dutch).

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