Progress made towards the national target to reduce health inequalities is masking the areas that are facing the worst problems, public health experts have warned.

Director of the London Health Observatory and vice-chair of the Association of Public Health Observatories Bobbie Jacobson called the target a 'curate's egg' hiding significant gaps at primary care trust-level.

'The target means we are just looking at the national picture,' said Dr Jacobson. 'As the national target is achieved we need to take a look inside the black box and see where the gaps are within individual PCTs.'

Department of Health inequalities unit head Anne Griffin announced that the DoH would be sending support teams to spearhead PCTs where the health inequalities gap was still wide, to help them address the problem.

At the launch of the DoH's new health inequalities intervention tool, Ms Griffin said the department's national support team would also be producing a report on the subject, which will advise on what measures PCTs can take. The report will be sent to spearhead PCTs.

She also acknowledged that although some health inequalities funding had been top-sliced to help trusts reach financial balance last year, these trusts needed to look at more efficient ways to spend the money they had.

Public health minister Dawn Primarolo said at the launch that PCTs should use the money 'allocated in their baseline' to address the health inequalities issues in their areas.

However, Ms Primarolo would not be drawn on whether the government would meet its target to reduce inequalities in life expectancy by 2010.

She said she was 'reasonably confident' the DoH's public service agreement target to reduce health inequalities by 10 per cent by 2010, as measured by infant mortality and life expectancy, would be met nationally.

However, she said: 'Some areas are making considerable progress towards closing the gap while others are further behind.'

Ms Primarolo was keen to stress the importance of PCTs in those areas with the greatest inequalities being able to understand 'the bigger picture'.

'[The tool] is designed to help spearhead PCTs understand the impact that simple, effective, evidence-based measures can have on the life expectancy gap of their local populations,' she said.