Health action zones set up

BMJ 1998; 316 doi: (Published 11 April 1998) Cite this as: BMJ 1998;316:1111
  1. John Warden
  1. London

    Eleven health action zones are being set up in England as the Labour government's first attempt to break the link between poverty and ill health. The areas chosen have a total population of almost six million in some of the most deprived localities.

    Although the funding of £5.3m ($8.5m) this year is less than £1 per head, a further £30m is pledged next year, when 10 or 12 more zones will be established. The health secretary, Frank Dobson, told the Commons last week that health action zones will break down bureaucratic impediments to modernise local health services and take concerted action to tackle the root causes of ill health.

    The first health action zones are in the east end of London, which has the greatest concentration of poverty and ill health in the country; the south London boroughs of Lambeth, Southwark, and Lewisham, which have the highest rate of underage pregnancies (under 16 years); Manchester and Salford; Tyne and Wear; Bradford; Plymouth; Luton, where the health needs of Asian women will be tackled; Sandwell; north Cumbria; Northumberland; and the Yorkshire coalfield communities of Barnsley, Doncaster, and Rotherham.

    These areas were selected by Mr Dobson from bids submitted by 41 health authorities. All need special help and have shown a capacity to help themselves to modernise and make progress in tackling inequalities. Mr Dobson mentioned the example of avoiding the consequences of diabetes by having a community based service for early diagnosis and treatment. Other zones will concentrate on “heart health” programmes and child health, or improving the health of elderly people.

    Each area will produce detailed plans to implement what they have proposed. Mr Dobson said that the cornerstone of public health strategy was to drive up the standards of health among the poorest at a faster rate than for the general population. Ideas developed in health action zones may eventually be incorporated in health improvement programmes, which every health authority will have to prepare for their area. A major health service bill will be introduced in parliament this autumn to lay this duty on health authorities.

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