HIA is a way to find and improve the health consequences of any defined policy or activity. It usually assesses a policy or activity that does not have health improvement as a primary objective. Any action will, we hope, reach its intended objectives, but may have other consequences that are unintended and unanticipated. These unintended effects may be good or bad for people’s health. For example, a new central retail development may bring employment but cause small local shops to close and reduce access for people without their own transport.
Health Impact Assessments aim to find all these effects on health in order to enhance the benefits for health and minimize any risks to health. It includes explicit consideration of the differential impacts on different groups in the population. HIA is usually forward looking (prospective), done at a time when it is possible to change the proposal if necessary.
Explicitly considering possible health consequences of their decisions demonstrates commitment to the role of employers too their employees and to their organizations.
Fundamentally, it should lead to better policy making. It demands that planners think broadly about the possible wider effects of their plans. It allows greater transparency of decision making as the potential impacts are made explicit. HIA is not only about mitigating risks, it should also enhance the positive effects of a wide range of policies.
Most HIAs need input from people with different perspectives and from different organisations.
Working together in this way brings added benefits in promoting partnership working.
After the HIA conflict may still arise, for example where one group of people stands to gain but another group stands to lose. HIA does not remove the need for difficult decisions, but it makes the health consequences more explicit.