'Fog everywhere.Fog up the river, where it flows among green aits and meadows; fog down the river, where it rolls defiled among the tiers of shipping, and the waterside pollutions of a great (and dirty) city. . . Fog in the eyes and throats of ancient Greenwich pensioners, wheezing by the firesides of their wards; fog in the stem and bowl of the afternoon pile of the wrathful skipper, down in his close cabin; fog cruelly pinching the toes and fingers of his shivering little 'prentice boy on deck.'

Charles Dickens' account in Bleak House of the first of the great coal-smoke-filled fogs which were to envelop Victorian London prefigured the more scientific observations that were to come and lead, in the fullness of time, to the Clean Air acts and massive improvements in the health of city dwellers. The passage is quoted on the Public Health Observatories website as one of the 'great observations' on public health issues it intends to compile in an electronic casebook. Other more conventional entries include Jerry Morris's Uses of Epidemiology, and Dennis Birkitt's work on lymphoma in Sub-Saharan Africa.

The national website is intended largely as a gateway to the work of the eight regional public health observatories launched back in February - appropriately enough at the Royal Observatory - by public health minister Yvette Cooper and charged with the task of tracking local progress in cutting health inequalities.

Some of these - the North West, South West, West Midlands and Trent - have websites of their own. Among the best is Professor John Ashton's North West PHO, which has the merit of both style and content. Others, notably the West Midlands PHO, are more limited, designed as it is around the old Department of Health web design and - despite a rather good collection of Powerpoint presentations from the launch - lacking recent content.

Perhaps they've fallen on Hard Times.