Health secretary Alan Milburn has announced the first national target to reduce health inequalities.

In his speech to the Labour Party's spring conference in Glasgow last weekend, Mr Milburn pledged: 'Starting with children aged under one year, by the end of the decade, the difference in death rates between children born into the poorest families and children born into average families will have fallen by at least 10 per cent. '

He said the measure would save 'around 3,000 children's lives' by 2010.

Sunderland health authority consultant in public health medicine Dr Dave Tregoning said the target was 'a worthwhile goal'.

But it needed to be linked to 'economic targets to narrow the wealth gap, and assistance and development for deprived neighbourhoods'.

St Helens and Knowsley HA public health director Dr Diana Forrest said the target had 'some validity' because of the difference in mortality rates between richer and poorer areas. But she added that it would be hard to ensure the target was achieved.

Mortality rates would be reduced similarly in poorer areas and richer areas unless inequalities of poverty were tackled, she said.

UK Public Health Association chief executive John Nicholson said he was pleased to see a national target, but the specific measure chosen 'raises as many questions as it answers'.

Mr Nicholson suggested that a target to tackle low birth weight would be 'more meaningful in requiring intervention from a range of agencies, and more straightforward in its measurement'.