Headlines: September 27th, 2004

The public health remit should to be taken away from the Department of Health and made the responsibility of the entire government. This would then shift the government’s present focus on acute NHS treatment to a broader approach to tackling the root causes of ill-health which include poverty and social inequality, housing, diet and pollution. This call comes from the Local Government Association, the NHS Confederation and the UK Public Health Association.Research shows that 50 per cent of variation in health is down to socio-economic differences, while just 25 per cent is down to the quality of health services, 15 per cent to inherited biological determinants and 10 per cent to environmental factors.

The recommendations are set out in a paper launched today by the three organisations, ‘Releasing the potential for the public’s health’, which aims to kick-start a radical change in the way public health in the UK is safeguarded and promoted. The paper sets out key demands to ensure people in Britain live longer, healthier and therefore happier lives.

Proposals include making the position of Public Health Minister a Cabinet-level post with a cross-departmental responsibility and making the Chief Medical Officer jointly accountable for health issues to the Public Health Minister and the Department of Health. The paper also argues for strengthening primary care trusts and local authorities in their public health roles and aligning their boundaries.

Because local councils play a key role in many of the factors that affect public health, including education, tackling poverty, sustainable development, housing and transport, the Government is urged to give local authorities and their communities more control over public health issues and ensure they have adequate resources to drive health improvement in a way that best suits their area’s needs.