Headlines: March 15th, 2006

Organisations in the National Health Service are to be told they must play their part in regenerating local communities. The Health Secretary, Patricia Hewitt, said NHS bodies could be a powerful force for good and she is insisting that they take account of tackling deprivation when making decisions about providing local services.Current guidance to the Health Service and to Overview and Scrutiny Committees on reconfiguration of services already advises them to consider the impact of changes on the wider community but Patricia Hewitt has told public health experts that the NHS should seek to make a real difference to the local economy and local community in its decisions about the shape of health and social care services.

Speaking at the UK Public Health Association’s annual forum, she said that people on low incomes were more likely to have worse health and to die younger. “Too often, our most deprived communities with the greatest health needs have the worst services,” she said.

The move towards a service focused on prevention not cure and the shift from hospital care to more community-based services meant the NHS had an historic opportunity to become an agent for regeneration and renewal. In many areas it was already the major employer and a big customer for suppliers. The decisions taken in the NHS about the location of buildings, equipment and services could be a major contributor to regeneration in deprived areas.

“I will be insisting that from now on the NHS takes account of the impact of reconfiguration of services on the local economy and local communities. We will be reviewing our guidance to the NHS to ensure that when a new hospital or health centre is proposed, a key factor in the decision making process will be the benefit to the local community in terms of creating employment, buying goods from local suppliers, designing new buildings that save energy and are pleasant places to work and visit, as well as and providing sustainable transport policies,” she said.