Are health action zones really at the cutting edge of public health as ministers intend? Or have they, as a leading Blairite think-tanker recently suggested, degenerated into test-beds for daft ideas dreamed up by civil servants and imposed on local people with the aid of endless central directives, rules and regulations?

Little chance of finding the answer to that one at the spanking brand new and very official HAZnet. The two waves of HAZs - 26 of them in all - announced last year and this cover 13 million people, spread across 34 health authorities and 73 local authorities, and HAZnet aims to bring them together in a single virtual community.

Perhaps Kent University's personal social services research unit has a better chance of coming up with some sort of answer. It began its evaluation of the HAZ initiative back in January, under Professor Ken Judge, and is looking at partnership and governance arrangements in each zone.

A scoping study carried out by PSSRU has already identified some potential problem areas: in particular, it points out that the clarity with which individual HAZs articulate their long-term outcomes 'varies considerably'. Some, such as North Cumbria, are quite specific; others, such as Tees or Bury and Rochdale, are vague to say the least.

The freedoms and flexibilities they anticipate are a little nebulous, too - not in their content but, according to PSSRU, in how HAZs will use them to deliver their plans. But these remain early days, and no-one expected HAZs to offer a quick fix. No doubt the researchers will have much more to say on this.

HAZnet, too, is still in its early days, and there is little here as yet beyond the basics: some contact details where available, short, medium and long-term aspirations for the initiative as a whole, and so on. But it certainly has potential. Do make sure your local HAZ passes on news of its activities and achievements.

These and other sites of interest can be reached via HSJ 's web - site at