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Health Services: Disadvantaged

Volume 486: debated on Thursday 15 January 2009

To ask the Secretary of State for Health what progress he has made towards meeting the target to reduce health inequalities by 10 per cent. by 2010; and if he will make a statement. (246993)

The national health inequalities public service agreement target (PSA) aims to reduce inequalities in health by 10 per cent. by 2010, as measured by infant mortality (by socio-economic group) and life expectancy at birth (by geographical area).

Since the 1997-99 baseline the infant mortality gap has widened, and latest 2005-07 data show the infant mortality rate among the Routine and Manual group was 16 per cent. higher than in the total population. However, the gap has narrowed in recent years and if the rate observed since 2002-04 continues, the infant mortality element of target will be met.

Life expectancy in England and in the Spearhead Group (the 70 local authority areas with the worst health and deprivation indicators, and the 62 primary care trusts mapping to them, and a focus of action for this element of the target) is at record levels. If the rest of England still had the life expectancy it had in 1995-97 (the target baseline), Spearhead areas would not just have narrowed the gap by 10 per cent., they would have closed it completely. However, the increase in Spearhead areas is not as great as in non-Spearheads so the gap has not narrowed. The latest 2005-07 data show that the percentage gap in life expectancy between the Spearhead Group and the England average has increased to 4 per cent. above baseline for men and 11 per cent. above baseline for women (the target is a 10 per cent. narrowing for both).

The health inequalities target was deliberately set to be ambitious. Some progress has been made. However, we acknowledge that more remains to be done. “Health Inequalities: Progress and Next Steps” (June 2008), a copy has already been placed in the Library, reaffirmed our commitment to tackling inequalities, and meeting this PSA target. Our focus now is to provide tailored, intensive, support to the Spearhead areas, and areas with high infant mortality, including:

an additional £34 million in spending for inequalities programmes in 2008-09;

investing more in the National Support Team for health inequalities to reach all Spearheads by summer 2009, enhancing the National Support Team for Tobacco Control, and establishing new National Support Teams for Alcohol and Infant Mortality; and

support to local partners for planning and commissioning of services through the “Health Inequalities Intervention Tool”.