Health action zones could disappear with the government's announcement this week of new local strategic partnerships of public sector, private and community organisations.

The partnerships form part of a neighbourhood renewal strategy targeted at England's most deprived areas.

But the strategy plan also says the LSPs are 'a possible vehicle for the rationalisation of partnerships, plans and initiatives'.

It confirms the move first outlined in the NHS plan that 'in the medium term, health action zones could be integrated with LSPs to strengthen the links between health education, employment and social exclusion'.

Local government minister Hilary Armstrong said that among the plethora of partnership schemes and initiatives operating at present, health ministers felt HAZs were 'particularly suitable for integration'.

UK Public Health Association chief executive John Nicholson said HAZs had been 'badly treated'.

While they did not offer the 'structural redistribution of health and wealth' necessary to tackle increasing health inequalities, the seven-year schemes had been allowed to 'wither away', he said.

'In fairness, that means they haven't had much of a chance to prove they can do something at a local level.'

Lambeth, Southwark and Lewisham HAZ communications manager Abigail Bennett said it was looking at devolving functions, such as the monitoring and review of projects, to existing partnership boards or to primary care groups and trusts. This would leave the HAZ with a 'strategic' role, she said.

Richard Priestley, chief executive of North Staffordshire health authority and chair of the HAZ, was happy to see 'an overarching vehicle' to pull together the work of different partnerships.

'Retaining the HAZ as a separate concept is not the objective. The objective is finding ways of social and economic regeneration that can improve the health and wellbeing of communities.'

But the new structures must not be 'so big and bureaucratic that it inhibits these outcomes', he warned.

A Department of Health spokesperson said the future of HAZs would be clearer when guidance on LSPs is issued in February.

Ms Armstrong also announced£45m to support 30 pilot 'neighbourhood management' schemes.

These would see the appointment of neighbourhood managers - possibly recruited from NHS managers or retired headteachers - 'actively accountable to their local communities to get the most out of existing programmes and funding'.

A£36m community empowerment fund to enable community participation in the new partnerships and a£50m 'community chest' for small grants to local groups were also announced.