Headlines: May 4th, 2005

A series of briefing papers on tackling health inequalities has been produced using learning gleaned from health action zones across the East and West Midlands. They are designed to be useful to primary care trusts, local authorities, local strategic partnerships and the voluntary sector.The papers have been produced by National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence, which has taken on the work previously carried out by the Health Development Agency. The documents are intended to offer ‘bite-size’ chunks of learning around the approaches to dealing with inequalities in the provision of health care.

There is a specific paper on partnerships, using Health Action for Stoke as a case study. It says meeting targets for dealing with inequalities by 2010 will depend critically on the actions of the NHS and the effectiveness of partnerships across other statutory organisations, the voluntary sector and community and user groups.

The paper argues that partnerships need to develop effective cross-organisational arrangements that take account of multiple lines of accountability alongside developing their own measurable targets that demonstrate progress towards local and national priorities. “Effective, sustainable and satisfying partnership working presents formidable challenges that require long-term commitment,” it says.

Other papers look at Mainstreaming, Commissioning for Change and Disseminating Learning. The authors say mainstreaming poses a major challenge for short-term projects. It is, none the less, the responsibility of organisations to mainstream practice that is shown to be more effective. They call for a systematic process for mainstreaming to be developed by commissioning organisations. Turning to commissioning, they say this sometimes takes place in isolation of identified needs and without reference to an evidence base of what works.

Similarly the paper on spreading the lessons learned in dealing with inequalities says this requires evidence to be collected and widely disseminated. There are, the document says, many opportunities for organisations, partnerships and communities to learn from each other but the majority of learning from area-based initiatives has traditionally been retained at the centre.