Christmas came early for me insofar as all the objectives I wanted to deliver were prioritised in the NHS operating framework. I was delighted to see health inequalities in there.
Well done to my colleagues in the health inequalities unit for all their hard work.
One of my work-related new year resolutions was to ensure that health inequalities was given appropriate attention and prioritised in both the NHS and local government.
However, like a lot of new year resolutions, plans are made with the best intentions and then other things come along to blow you off course.
When we live in an environment where all targets are important and we have a vast amount of reactive work to deal with, prioritising the needs of those who are often the least demanding is quite a challenge. I was just beginning to think that giving up chocolate might be easier to achieve.
However, there is a management solution to every problem.
For those of you who would really like to make a difference to health inequalities - especially in this important anniversary year of the NHS - can I suggest the following small actions?
Know your gap. This means being focused on the gap in life expectancy in your local patch. There will be a direct link to poverty and deprivation. So, the circumstances in which people live will, as we know, determine their health status.
Don't go it alone. Who can help with tackling inequalities? Find colleagues so that you can build a collaboration of success. Local authorities, police and the voluntary sector often understand this policy better than the NHS. But you must get your finance director on board. When they can describe the health and health inequalities of the population as well as the director of public health can, it begins to get taken more seriously. Of course, this may mean that the director of finance will want the favour returned - but that is a small price to pay.
What will make a difference? Take a pragmatic view on what can be achieved. You don't have to deliver a complete reduction in health inequalities. Even making sure that when you do establish programmes aimed at improving health that they are started in the most deprived areas will make a difference. Too many health programmes are taken up by those with the best health, which widens inequalities.
Concentrate on delivery. The new duty of joint strategic needs assessment provides a good opportunity to target areas of deprivation. This makes designing a more equitable service easier.
The most important thing is to move beyond describing the problem and take action to reduce the identified inequalities. Make a resolution to describe at least one action that will be implemented to make a difference to the health inequalities in your area.
So, here's to a happy, healthy and health inequalities-reduced 2008.