Leading Article: A great health project - despite the spin

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The Independent Online
UNLIKE some of his ministerial colleagues, the Health Secretary Frank Dobson seems to be quietly getting on with the job. In his case there is no point pretending money is not a problem. Only a silly spin doctor would try to argue that the quality of health care is not closely tied to the NHS's annual financial allocation, and that is currently not enough to keep up with population changes, let alone new medicine and medical technology. However there are things that can be done even within tight totals. One is defining "health" more widely, identifying the many ways in which bodily well-being is conditioned by environment and income. The creation yesterday of experimental zones where "health" is planned and provided on a much broader scale has to be a stride in the right direction.

Why? Because if you plot mortality, illness and disability the map tends to look the same as if you had coloured it for educational under-achievement, unemployment and the other indices of social exclusion. No wonder then that the first health action zones are in places such as Hackney, Bradford and Salford. There is no point in being naive about their potential. To work they will demand superhuman co-operation between institutions and specialists. Housing officers will have to talk to GPs, voluntary groups to social services departments, health visitors to police officers. Even then, they will only work if these poorer areas are better treated in the annual hand-outs of revenue support grants, community awards and health allocations. But it is a great and worthwhile project - and worth a million spin-doctors.

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