MPs have accused the government of “wanton large scale experimentation on the public” through poorly evidenced health inequalities policies.

The health committee used the final report of its inquiry into health inequalities, published yesterday, to call for policy to be rigorously piloted and evaluated.

It criticised the government for not working out how much has been spent on tackling health inequalities and urged the Department of Health to find out how primary care trusts have spent the funds allocated so far.

But MPs backed away from demanding that public health funds be ringfenced or transferred to local authorities, saying there was not enough evidence.

Impossible to evaluate

They said the most damning criticism of health inequalities policy they had heard was that it was designed and introduced in ways “which make meaningful evaluation impossible”.

“Such wanton, large scale experimentation is unethical and needs to be superseded by a more rigorous culture of piloting, evaluating and using the results to inform policy,” they said.

The report urged Sir Michael Marmot, currently leading a review on health inequalities in England, to consider how hospitals could tackle the issue - including through the payment by results tariff and the DH’s standards for better health.

Recommendations

  • review of cost of implementing National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence guidance in each PCT;
  • quicker action to ensure PCTs receive real target allocations under resource allocation model;
  • all new health inequality initiatives to follow basic research guidelines;
  • review quality and outcomes framework to ensure targets take account of health inequalities;
  • government legislation to introduce statutory traffic light labelling of food;
  • PCTs to be statutory consultees for local planning procedures.