Published: 18/08/2005, Volume II5, No. 5969 Page 9

Health inequalities between the richest and poorest parts of the country have increased, a government report has admitted.

A study by the Department of Health's scientific reference group on health inequalities shows the inequality gap, measured by infant mortality and life expectancy, has widened between the country's wealthiest and most deprived areas.

The government has pledged to reduce the inequality gap by 10 per cent between 1997 and 2010.

However, the report, published last week, showed that the gap in infant mortality rates between those living in the most deprived regions and the rest of population rose from 13 per cent in 1997-99 to 19 per cent in 2001-03.

The difference in life expectancy between the most deprived fifth of the population and the population as a whole also widened by 2 per cent for males and 5 per cent for females over the same period.

Professor Sir Michael Marmot, chair of the scientific reference group, said: 'A 10 per cent reduction in the difference between disadvantaged groups and the average by 2010 may not seem large, but it is ambitious.

'As average health improves, health must improve even more for disadvantaged groups if inequalities are to be reduced'.

Professor Marmot warned that the report gave the government 'no grounds for complacency that enough has yet been done'.

However, the study highlighted some improvements towards cutting inequalities, including a decline in death rates from heart disease and stroke in under-75s - down by 22 per cent between the wealthiest and most deprived communities since 1997.

www. dh. gov. uk/assetRoot/04/11/76/ 98/04117698. pdf