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The NHS needs to go beyond its 'natural partners' to build wide- ranging alliances to improve older people's health and quality of life, says a report published this week.

Research by Leeds University's Nuffield Institute for Health also suggests that health authorities should appoint a 'product champion' if they are to develop their agenda 'in other than a piecemeal way'.

The report, commissioned by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation and Anchor Trust for the National Preventative Task Group, includes examples from HAs and local authorities around the country (see box).

It concludes that a multi-agency approach is essential. In local authorities, 'tangible and consistent commitment' from the council leader and the chief executive is critical. Some authorities have produced policy statements about 'improving health and well-being' or 'encouraging active citizenship'.

But this is not enough to create change, the report warns. Such statements must be backed by achievable policies and plans.

Health and local authorities could work together to make progress in improving older people's lives through health improvement programmes, the report says.

Where health action zones are being developed they may also provide a focus for a broad-based agenda for improving health and quality of life.

But, the report adds, there are 'substantial contributions' to be made by a wide range of other organisations and individuals.

'Many of these will not see themselves as natural partners in an NHS- led process and, in many cases, there is no tradition of the NHS working closely with them.'

The report suggests that primary care groups may be able to provide a framework for engaging a broad range of players in smaller geographical areas. But, it points out, 'their agenda will be huge'.

Cash limits create pressure on existing services and make it more difficult to change the way things traditionally work, says the report.

And while access to non-traditional funding, particularly by voluntary sector groups, has helped to develop some lower-intensity services, these are often short-term sources of income.

But with the Modernising Social Services white paper, there has been a 'very real shift' in national policy towards recognising the value of early intervention and the contribution of older people.

A local authority circular, issued in May, also requires local authorities to develop a preventive strategy, with a written plan by the end of October. Promoting Well-Being: developing a preventive approach with older people. From Anchor Trust, Fountain Court, Oxford Spires Business Park, Kidlington, Oxfordshire OX5 1NZ.£15.