The Public Accounts Committee in its report expresses concern at the slow progress made by the Department of Health towards reducing the gap in life expectancy between 70 ‘spearhead’ local authorities with high deprivation and the population as a whole by 10 per cent by 2010.
The report is critical of the Department for not implementing more quickly low cost treatments such as those to help smokers quit and those to prevent heart attacks.
The report expresses concern that inequality in health has increased. The Department was commended for setting out to tackle a problem that has proved historically to be so intractable, but the Public Accounts Committee found it unacceptable that it took it until 2006, nine years after it announced the importance of tackling health inequalities, to establish this as an NHS priority.
GPs are crucial to improving the health of people in the most deprived areas. However, in many of these areas the number of GPs per head of population is well below the number in more affluent areas. The Department missed an opportunity to use the revised GP contract to ensure more doctors work in deprived areas, and has not focused their attention sufficiently on implementing the key interventions that would make a difference.
The report urges that tackling health inequalities does not slip down the Department’s agenda. The Department will need to set a clear framework of accountability at all levels of the health service if it is to be successful in addressing health inequalities in future.
The report is available from Parliamentary Publications.