The Department of Health has moved to reassure health service managers that the duty of partnership set out in the Health Bill will apply equally to the NHS and local government.

The 'partnership' section of the Health Bill says it is the 'duty' of named NHS organisations to co-operate with each other.

But it only says NHS bodies and local authorities 'shall co-operate with one another'.

Several organisations asked the DoH whether that placed a stronger obligation on the NHS than local government. The DoH consulted its lawyers and said there was no difference.

But the NHS Confederation is still planning to press for the local government bill to incorporate a duty on local councils 'to promote the social and economic well-being of their local populations', as promised in the Modernising Local Government white paper.

'We want to be sure that the partnership duty between health and local authorities is not diluted in any way,' said confederation policy director Cathy Hamlyn.