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At last, a public health minister

BMJ 1997; 314 doi: (Published 24 May 1997) Cite this as: BMJ 1997;314:1498

Now we need a new public health act

  1. Noel Olsen, Public health physiciana
  1. a Oakdale, Courtwood, Newton Ferrers, Devon PL8 1BW

    The appointment of Britain's first minister of public health, Tessa Jowell, is a sign that the new Labour administration recognises that the health of the population depends on more than the provision of good healthcare services. Health also depends on the physical, social, and economic environment in which people live. To improve public health the new minister will need to generate a culture of concern for human health throughout government policy. To facilitate this a new public health act should be introduced as soon as possible, and, pending that, changes should be implemented that do not need legislation.

    The forthcoming British presidency of the intergovernmental conference of the European Union should focus its efforts on revising clause 129 of the Maastricht agreement (which deals with public health issues). This would make health impact assessment (which includes both environmental and social assessment) a dominant feature of the development of European policy, providing an evidence based counterbalance to market forces and the common agricultural policy. Given political commitment and improved methodology, health impact assessment could catalyse the next leap in the population's health in the early years of the new millennium.

    The Beveridge report, the foundation stone of the NHS, emphasised the role of government in prevention.1 Unfortunately, the NHS's first half century saw little effective preventive action by …

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