Published: 05/09/2002, Volume II2, No. 5812 Page 6

The Scottish Executive is to propose new public health priorities in a bid to shed the country's sick man of Europe image, HSJ has been told.

A health white paper is due to be published next year and will highlight four key areas. They were selected because it is claimed they will have the biggest and quickest impact on the population's health. The areas are the start of life (from pre-birth to early childhood), children making the transition from primary to secondary school, workplace health, and community development, including tackling health inequalities.

It is understood the priorities were all chosen after considerable debate both in and outside the Scottish Cabinet, following publication of internal documents by Professor Phil Hanlon, director of the Public Health Institute of Scotland.

This week, Professor Hanlon stressed that other areas of public health in Scotland - such as food, smoking cessation and older people - were not being ignored.

He said: 'In selecting a few areas for highlighted attention We are hoping to make a palpable difference within a very few years. I am comfortable with the decision to start with these areas and I think There is a good case for them.

'That is not to say there is not a good case for food or alcohol or older people, but if you try to do everything simultaneously, then the effort is diluted.'

He claimed they were all part of a complex and sophisticated matrix to help decide where interventions should be.

The health improvement agenda, which will dominate a large part of the white paper, will be tied to significant extra funding from Scotland's share of chancellor Gordon Brown's recent Budget billions. And the Scottish Executive health department, along with other agencies, is currently working on new branding to help 'sell' healthy messages, which will be promoted by all relevant public sector bodies.

One source close to the discussions said it was important to come out fighting in the face of prevailing attitudes towards lifestyle. 'We have got to start competing with the multinationals that are promoting unhealthy living, ' he asserted.

The new drive comes as first minister Jack McConnell indicated that public health, particularly Scotland's unhealthy diet, was to be his own personal crusade. In an interview with The Herald newspaper last month, he said he was embarrassed at Scotland's reputation as the sick man of Europe .

He personally pledged to monitor progress and that he would bring together all existing initiatives into a health improvement plan for Scotland.

It is uncertain how Mr McConnell's vision of bringing all initiatives under the one roof will work. Already there are question over the likely merger of the PHIS with the respected Health Education Board for Scotland, which has been without a chief executive and a full board for the past year.