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Spearhead PCTs to tackle health inequality

Published on 23/11/04 at 10:34am

PCTs in some of England's most deprived areas are to lead a new drive to tackle public health problems such as smoking, obesity and poor diet.

Eighty-eight Spearhead Primary Care Trusts have been named and from January 2005 will pioneer initiatives such as healthier school meals, more services to help people stop smoking, and personal NHS health trainers, offering diet and exercise advice.

The 88 PCTs cover the most deprived areas of the country in the Midlands, North West, North East and pockets of the most disadvantaged areas of London, including Haringey, Tower Hamlets and Lambeth and were identified using information on deprivation, cancer mortality, heart disease and life expectancy.

The PCTs will be encouraged to strengthen partnerships with local authorities, voluntary organisations and other stakeholders to broaden access and encourage people from disadvantaged groups to use services.

Health Secretary John Reid said: "The spearhead Primary Care Trusts will be the first to get funding for health trainers, improved smoking cessation services and school nurses.  We know that there are significant differences in the health of people which depends on the area in which they live.  

"Individuals alone struggle to change their local environment so the action of local authorities and PCTs and other partners in these most disadvantaged areas is vital.  As well as tackling particular health issues like smoking, obesity, poor housing, accidents and mental health, it means changing how services are delivered to reduce barriers and improve health choices."

Pharmaceutical companies who have products for obesity and nicotine replacement therapy (NRT) could see their sales rise in these areas as PCTs focus on reaching out to people in their communities who do not currently use local health services.

Professor Chris Drinkwater, who runs a Primary Care Development Centre at Northumbria University said the news could be good for companies in the NRT market if the PCTs are successful in drawing in more people to smoking cessation services.

But he added that these services alone would not necessarily end health deprivation. "There is not a lot of evidence to suggest that smoking cessation services have helped bridge inequalities across the country."

As with other NHS reforms, pharma companies may also need to review how they market their products to forge closer links with PCTs.

An industry insider said: "Pharma companies will have to wait and see how PCTs invest this money. It may mean that pharmaceutical companies will need to invest less money in medical reps and more money on services in PCTs, such as training community pharmacists.

"They may need to think about how they market their products. Most products are marketed to treat people but the onus will be switched to identifying patients before they become unwell."

Dr Kirsty Foster, a consultant in public health at Newcastle PCT, one of the Spearhead trusts piloting the scheme, voiced her approval.

She said: "We welcome the concept, although it really is too early to know the details of what we are required to do and how. It is well known that health inequalities in the North East are among the worst in the country.

"This is down to a number of factors but the result is that we need to work extremely hard to bridge the gap between the North East and the rest of the country.  I hope the Spearhead PCT will help us achieve these aims."






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