conference focus :

Improving public health could be undermined by the government's focus on its election pledge to boost patient care, delegates heard.

Discussion of the brief history of health improvement programmes revealed that much Department of Health guidance had been 'vague and fluffy'. David Hunter, professor of health policy and management at Durham University, has conducted a survey of six primary care trusts as they try to improve health inequalities through the programmes.

He said: 'The NHS is on trial to improve healthcare, and over the next two years that is what it will be judged on. The politicians want to deliver the NHS, and unfortunately that does not include dealing with things like health inequalities.'

Many people working on HImPs had been 'knocked sideways' by the drive to get the organisational structures of primary care groups sorted out.

The coming upheavals of strategic health authorities and the creation of even more PCTs could make the situation worse, he added.