The Department of Health is to create a national support team to help primary care trusts and local authorities tackle public health.
The move follows the revelation that even some of the 'spearhead' areas are falling behind on targets for reducing health inequalities (news, page 7, 20 September).
And it comes after last week's publication of a detailed profile of health across England, which showed that the success of public health policy was patchy.
Plans for the new team were unveiled in Health Challenge England - next steps for Choosing Health, which was published alongside the health statistics.
The DoH said it would use evidence from spearhead areas to assess progress. And it is to set up a national support team 'to provide support to PCTs and local authorities on implementing measures likely to be effective in tackling local health inequalities'.
A DoH spokeswoman said the scheme was still in its early stages and was informed by the strong message from public health professionals that they would like a national support team.
She said the DoH was still looking at how the support would be delivered.
The move has been given a cautious welcome by public health experts. 'It's a question of what direction this is coming from - whether it's a turnaround team or about facilitation and support,' said NHS Alliance president and head of public health Chris Drinkwater.
But he said the team could help facilitate more joint working. Faculty of Public Health president Professor Rod Griffiths said there was 'a real development need', particularly in some of the new PCTs.
He said a new support team could play a part in drawing together different parts of the NHS, health agencies and others to prompt more 'whole-system thinking' around public health.
John Middleton, director of public health at Sandwell PCT, one of the spearheads, said he did not want to see 'the kind of heavy-handed performance management we've had from [the] Neighbourhood Renewal [strategy]'.
'The amount of expertise that exists on high is not too great,' he added.
'More locally-orientated and organised peer review, in which there is a genuine exchange of best practice, would be much more useful.'