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Minister promises to narrow health gap

Tom Wall21/11/2012 - 13:00

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Anna Soubrey speaking at the CIEH conference
Anna Soubrey speaking at the CIEH conference

Public health minister Anna Soubry has vowed to reduce the gap between the life expectancy of people living in affluent areas and deprived areas.

Ms Soubry, who replaced Anne Milton in September, told delegates at the CIEH’s public health conference this week that she felt ‘very strongly’ about the need to reduce health inequalities.

‘One of the responsibilities which I personally feel very strongly about is the determination, effectively the statutory duty, to reduce health inequalities. To me that is the mark of any good government and I will say absolutely publically that it will be a mark of the coalition government,’ she said.

Professor Michael Marmot, an expert on health inequalities, found in 2010 that in England people living in the poorest neighbourhoods will, on average, die seven years earlier than people living in the richest neighbourhoods.

He also revealed that people in the poorest areas on average have a disabling illness for 17 years more than those in affluent areas.

This year he found inequalities in life expectancy between neighborhoods increased by 0.1 years for men. There was no change for women.

Ms Soubry said EHOs were the ‘guardians of public health’ and urged them to make the most of the transfer of public health responsibilities to councils next April.

She told delegates: ‘We appreciate the critical role you fulfill. You have been carrying out the public agenda since 1974. From food safety inspections to the health and wellbeing workplace interventions, your expertise has served your communities well. There is a real opportunity now for EHOs to use their skills in collaboration with boarder public health team.’

Ms Soubry acknowledged that funding had been a source of anxiety for many councils but stressed NHS public spending would be carried across to local authorities and protected in real terms.

‘We estimated that in 2012/2013 £5.2bn would be spent on public health, including £2.25bn on services that will be responsibility of local government. We will protect the local authority baselines in real terms.

‘While there have been revisions to some of these baselines, you will get real terms on the revised or original baseline, which ever is higher. So to be clear, the money will pay for many commissioned services, also includes costs for staff transferring to local authorities,’ she said.

She added that councils would receive final allocations as soon as possible.

‘I will not allow any more delay,’ she said.

This week's EHN poll question asks: are councils ready to takeover public health next year?

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