Headlines: January 11th, 2005

Promoting healthier communities and narrowing health inequalities is a priority shared between central and local government, but the profile of local councils is set to rise. The comprehensive performance assessment from 2005 will measure how well they are doing in this area. Local area agreements will also be piloted in 2005/06.covering health issues between central and local government and its partners.The Shared Priority Project, sponsored by the Local Government Association and the Department of Health, brings together 12 lead authorities with the aim of generating learning that will enable all councils to work with their primary care trusts and regional partners to promote healthier communities and reduce health inequalities.

Local councils are uniquely placed to achieve improvements in community health and to narrow the health gap, but because health has not been part of councils’ core business, they have not generally been systematic about maximising the positive health impacts of their leadership and services. Consequently, tackling health inequalities is a major challenge – it means councils must aim for a faster rate of improvement in the health of disadvantaged groups than in their population as a whole.

To help councils respond to the challenge the Health Development Agency has devised a self-assessment tool to help in identifying gaps in their capacity to tackle the health problems in their area. The tool offers a framework and checklists for exploring the council’s understanding of health inequalities and the role of local government in tackling them, what the council knows about the health inequalities in its area, what it is already doing, whether there is successful work to build on and whether it has the capacity to tackle health inequalities. The tool is available at: http://www.hda-online.org.uk/Documents/selfassess.pdf