Health strategy targets poverty

Click to follow
The Independent Online
Public health doctors in Birmingham have devised a set of targets for reducing health inequalities which could provide the model for a national strategy to tackle social exclusion.

Ministers are examining the targets, which measure the health effects of deprivation, to see if they can be included in the Health of the Nation strategy, launched by the previous government in 1992. Ministers want to refocus the strategy, which includes 27 disease and population targets, on a smaller number of measures aimed at reducing the health gap between rich and poor.

Tessa Jowell, minister for public health, said the list of 10 targets provided a benchmark against which progress on overcoming social exclusion could be measured. "That is the kind of thing we want to produce," she said. Proposals for introducing similar measures nationwide would be included in the Green Paper on public health to be published in the autumn.

The list includes low birth-weight, hospital admissions during the first year of life and untreated dental decay - all measures of childhood deprivation. Teenage pregnancy and suicide mark problems in adolescence while heart disease, stroke and breast-cancer are more common among the poor in middle age. Chronic illness or disability in later life is more frequent among the disadvantaged.

Ms Jowell, on a visit to local health projects in Birmingham this week, said the Government was determined to find ways to lead the socially excluded back into the mainstream. "This community pays the price of their exclusion with the deep-seated inequalities that blight many parts of the inner cities."

Dr Jackie Chambers, director of public health in Birmingham, said: "It is possible to map how inequalities develop from birth to old age using the markers we have selected. If we are successful in reducing inequalities we will see a rapid fall in these measures."

Last week, the Government said it was setting up a cabinet committee, chaired by Peter Mandelson, to co-ordinate policy on tackling social exclusion.