Headlines: November 22nd, 2004

Eighty eight primary care trusts, covering seventy local council areas, have been included in the ‘Spearhead’ group to pilot initiatives such as health trainers and enhanced stop smoking services. Over a quarter of the population are covered by this group of trusts including large urban areas such as Liverpool, Manchester, Birmingham and parts of London. The group were selected using information on deprivation, mortality from cancer and heart disease as well as life expectancy, to determine the areas that face the greatest health challenges.The aim of the Spearhead group will be to reduce the significant differences in the health of people in their areas, compared to the rest of the country. Department of Health targets have been set to narrow the geographical inequalities in life expectancy, cancer and heart disease mortality and they are focused on narrowing the gap between the average and the areas with the worst health and deprivation indicators by 2010.

As well as tackling particular health issues like smoking, obesity, poor housing, accidents and mental health, changes will be made in the way services are delivered to reduce barriers and improve health choices. Because health depends on a whole range of factors across the local environment, trusts will work closely with local councils and other partners. Plans are being developed to share knowledge about successes across the country to build up a picture of what works.

Health inequalities are closely linked with other forms of disadvantage, such as high unemployment, high crime and poor housing and this initiative will complement the neighbourhood renewal programmes of the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister to ensure a joined up approach.