Headlines: February 3rd, 2003

A healthy life and life expectancy in the UK depend on economic and environmental factors as well as healthcare provision. An ‘All Government Delivery Plan’ to tackle health inequalities will be published shortly. The plan will set out a joined-up multi-agency response to inequality involving government departments and local councils as well as the NHS.NHS bodies and local strategic partnerships will establish priorities for action and Health Equity Audits will be carried out to establish a framework for systematically developing equity profiles. For example where there is a high incidence of coronary heart disease or infant mortality or where there is a low life expectancy, a Health Equity Audit would consider the health needs of particular groups based on age, gender geography or ethnicity. A framework would be devised taking account of factors such as educational attainment, unemployment or domestic burglary.

The Delivery Plan will drive the incorporation of Health Equity Audits into the mainstream performance reviews across the NHS, local authorities and Local Strategic Partnerships. The Plan will also promote the inclusion of health inequalities within local authority Best Value performance reviews. It is thought that this approach will be well supported because there is already strong encouragement for local authorities to select cross-cutting issues for the reviews.

Health Equity Audits will provide a valuable tool for the new local authority health overview and scrutiny committees to use as part of their scrutiny exercises. The scrutiny committee will be able to seek information from the NHS and other partners on health inequalities and equity issues for the group or service chosen for the scrutiny exercise. Recommendations from the scrutiny committee would then specifically include actions to tackle any inequity identified.