Public health minister Caroline Flint has hinted that the government may consider 'ringfencing' funds for specific public health initiatives.

Public health minister Caroline Flint has hinted that the government may consider 'ringfencing' funds for specific public health initiatives.

Tackled on the issue by a delegate at the Association of Directors of Public Health's annual conference, Ms Flint said she recognised that there were cases where securing money for specific programmes could be effective, in 'fragile areas' in need of protection.

In a speech to the conference last week Ms Flint said the last year had been 'extremely difficult' but that reorganisation was necessary to 'come out the other side somewhere better'.

Telford and Wrekin primary care trust director of health improvement Catherine Woodward asked if the government would consider earmarking money for specific public health initiatives.

'Personally I think in order to deliver the step change we are all after, a programme would need ringfencing - and proper ringfencing, not just indicative budgets,' said Ms Woodward.

Ms Flint told the conference that as a Home Office minister she had secured ringfenced funds to tackle drug abuse and admitted there were cases when directing money for specific programmes could be effective. 'It is about value for money and whether it works or not there are certainly fragile areas that need a lot of protection'.

She said that the public health professionals and government had to work together to expose challenges and question them. 'We continue to have discussions about resources in this area and do the best we can,' she added.

Meanwhile, a survey of 134 chairs and chief executives of the newly reorganised PCTs published today by the NHS Confederation reveals that senior managers believe that tackling health inequalities is their biggest long-term priority (see story, left).

Over half of those surveyed said reducing health inequalities was the most important long-term challenge for PCTs. And two-thirds said they believed the government should create a separate fund for health improvement to avoid longer-term projects being squeezed by more immediate demands of running the NHS.