The launch of the much-delayed public health white paper drew sighs of relief from public health directors and campaigners.

But the Saving Lives document was criticised for failing to address inequality issues adequately.

Dr Sian Griffiths, director of public health at Oxfordshire health authority, welcomed publication 'at last'.

Bobbie Jacobson, public health director for East London and the City HA, said: 'Thank God it is now on the table. At least public health professionals now know what they are supposed to be working towards.'

But she said the 'critical thing' would be how the new targets were linked to action and 'how the new resources will actually be used to tackle inequalities'.

Public health minister Tessa Jowell claimed that the government's strategy would see faster improvements in the health of disadvantaged people than in the wider population.

But Professor Peter Townsend, a member of the Black committee which published Inequalities in Health in 1977, told HSJ that he had 'great concerns about how the government plans to tackle these massive problems'.

'Poverty is the single greatest contributing factor to ill-health,' he said. 'The Acheson report (on health inequalities, published last year) made 10 recommendations about changing the benefit system as a way of addressing this.

'This is the kind of cross-departmental action we need. I don't see any moves of this kind in the white paper.'

Donald Reid, joint chief executive of the UK Public Health Association, said: 'There do not appear to be national targets for reducing health inequalities - we desperately need these.

'The development fund will make little difference. Will trust chief executives now be told to prioritise public health over waiting lists?'

But King's Fund public health director Anna Coote was more optimistic. 'I don't believe we need national targets to get rid of inequalities,' she said.

'But we do need a strong and sustained approach from the government if this white paper is to have any real effect.'

Michael Marmot, director of University College London's international centre for health and society, and a member of the Acheson team, argued that the government had already acted on its recommendations, with the Sure Start programme for under-threes and changes to the tax system.

Saving Lives: our healthier nation.

Stationery Office.£15.

www.ohn.gov.uk