Published: 07/10/2004, Volume II4, No. 5926 Page 8

The NHS should provide better information to help people make the right health decisions, Tim Kelsey, chief executive of health data provider Dr Foster, has said.

Health secretary John Reid has repeatedly said that reducing health inequalities is a top priority for the government. But Mr Kelsey warned that unless the forthcoming public health white paper required the NHS to improve information sections of the community could lose out under the government's choice policy.

Speaking at the Labour Party conference last week, he said: 'If the government misses this opportunity, we'll end up with a two-tier health service in which the informationally equipped will exercise choice and those that do not understand information will not do so.'

Mr Reid hinted last week that information and support might be part of the white paper, expected this month. He told the conference: 'We will help people to make healthier choices more easily.'

What kind of information could be provided is unclear. Food Standards Agency chair Sir John Krebs told a conference fringe meeting that a 'simple signposting' system for foods would help shoppers decide what was good for them. But Mr Reid said that such information 'had to take a meaningful form', which meant taking into account people's level of education.

Public health minister Melanie Johnson also warned that using schools to pass on public health messages may not be the best way to educate youngsters, and she said she was 'open-minded' on a ban on alcohol advertising on TV, which has been called for by the British Medical Association.

lThe appointment of a Cabinet minister for public health seems unlikely, despite press reports that the prime minister was about to create a new government post.

The NHS Confederation and the Local Government Association last week called for the public health remit to be removed from the Department of Health and made a governmentwide responsibility. But government sources say the creation of a new Cabinet minister post is unlikely.