Published: 06/05/2004, Volume II4, No. 5904 Page 7

Primary care trusts should make health equity audits of their populations an urgent priority, NHS chief executive Sir Nigel Crisp has warned.

Sir Nigel told the Department of Health's Choosing Health conference in London last week that in order to tackle health inequalities PCTs must invest time in the audits now, so they could 'properly understand their local communities and their local service gaps'.

Audits were important because they allowed PCTs to 'identify how fairly services or other resources are distributed in relation to the health needs of different groups and areas'.

He told public health delegates that the DoH will 'want to see local plans which address inequalities within access to health and to health services'.

PCTs are required to carry out health equity audits as part of the DoH's planning and priorities framework for 2003-06.

Sir Nigel said it was important that PCTs developed local targets which related to local authority targets.And he claimed 'integrated target setting and delivery' would provide 'fantastic opportunities'.

Local strategic partnerships would be central to tackling health inequalities, he said. By taking an 'active role in these partnerships, PCTs will be better able to identify and prioritise local inequalities'.

Speaking at the same conference, Local Government Association chair Sir Jeremy Beecham said there was 'scarcely a responsibility of local government which does not impinge on the public health agenda'.

He said there needed to be 'wholehearted acceptance by government and its agencies that health is not just an issue for the NHS, or even the DoH'.

Sir Nigel said there were four big areas for the NHS to look at during the Choosing Health consultation: tackling 'major killers' such as cancer and coronary heart disease; local planning around health inequalities; race and equality;

and the NHS as an employer.