The UK Public Health Association will 'confront and expose forces inhibiting the government's intentions to act progressively', if necessary, new chief executive John Nicholson said this week.

Mr Nicholson, former chief executive of north west HIV and AIDS charity the George House Trust, has been known for his willingness to expose financial wrangles and bureaucratic delays hindering its work.

In his first weeks leading the UKPHA - formed from a merger of the Public Health Association and the Association for Public Health - Mr Nicholson said he hoped he would not have to use 'confrontational' tactics to keep public health high on the government's agenda.

But he added: 'When it isn't enough - when we are dealing with the vested interests of multinational corporations and a reactive tabloid press, forces inhibiting the government's intentions to act progressively - well, they have to be confronted and exposed.'

Welcoming the government's 'very real commitment to tackling the inequalities in health', Mr Nicholson cautioned against spending on 'a plethora of initiatives' rather than tackling the 'fundamental structural problems' behind inequalities.

He admitted there were concerns that the government's public health programme 'had dissipated into a bit of a checklist' of initiatives, such as nicotine therapy and health action zones.

'There is a real tension between spending a lot of money on a lot of little shortterm single-initiative schemes and putting the same money into things that will have a structural effect across the country, ' he said.

'We do have to tackle the fact the rich are getting richer and the poor are getting poorer in order to improve health for all.'

But Mr Nicholson said levels of enthusiasm for public health - both inside and outside government - reflected 'a movement whose time has come'.

Mr Nicholson said attracting financial support was an 'immediate priority' for the new organisation, which would find 'its hands tied if it had to spend all its time rattling cans'.

He said other early priorities included 'an immediate requirement to sort out our organisational infrastructure' to build regional and devolved government links.

Mr Nicholson said the UKPHA would also have to think how to balance its roles representing public health to 'the top level of government', influencing public opinion through educational and promotional work, and creating a resource for local campaigns.

'My own view is that we should do something that the Australian and American public health associations have done for some time, to look at special interest groups and link them together - health and housing would be likely to be one, another might be health and nutrition.

'There is a potential for drawing in a lot more people that way. . . and it could be more effective than everyone just lobbying away all the time.'