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Districts fail to get guarantee

Corin Williams09/02/2012 - 13:15

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District councils have varying roles on HWBs
District councils have varying roles on HWBs

The government has rejected MPs’ calls for a statutory requirement to be placed on health and wellbeing boards (HWBs) to include second-tier local authorities.

In November a Health Select Committee report criticised the government’s handling in setting up HWBs and said crucial expertise held at district council level was in danger of being lost.

An EHN extra investigation also revealed last week that district councils feared they were being sidelined under the new public health arrangements.

In its response to the committee the Department of Health said districts made a ‘crucial contribution’ to key health and wellbeing issues, such as environmental health and housing, and that current guidance emphasised the need to include second-tier councils.

But it continued: ‘However, we do not wish to prescribe how this should happen in practice. Local areas will have the flexibility to develop the arrangements that work for them and fit best with local circumstances, whether that is by adding district councils to the health and wellbeing board’s membership or via another route.

‘Ultimately, getting this right will depend on leadership, relationships and culture, not on prescription or just legislation.’

The DoH also rebuffed calls for councils to be given additional local powers, such as introducing a minimum unit price for alcohol in an area, and for councils to be given a statutory duty to reduce health inequalities.

It said: ‘We have no current plans to consult on allowing local areas to adopt minimum unit pricing for alcohol. The evidence base for alcohol pricing interventions is based on national rather than local level interventions.

‘We believe that, since local authorities are independent, democratic bodies, we are best able to promote a national focus on tackling health inequalities through non-legislative means such as the Public Health Outcomes Framework.’

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