England’s public health body is preparing to “make noise” about the north-south divide in health outcomes.

The Public Health England initiative could extend to taking ministers to task over their approaches to welfare and employment policies, as they are often strongly linked to health.

The new approach is expected to include academic research and the creation of a “commission on health equity” and a range of expert groups formed from key public health figures in the North of England.

The idea is the brainchild of Paul Johnstone, PHE’s regional director for the north of England, and is supported by the organisation at a national level. Many health outcome measures are, on average, worse in the North.

Professor Johnstone revealed the ideas to HSJ sister title Local Government Chronicle. He said: “[PHE chief executive] Duncan Selbie has given this his personal endorsement and backing.

“The way PHE sees this is, if we don’t tackle the gap in health outcomes between the North and the rest of the country, then we’re not tackling inequality.”

Asked whether PHE − a government agency − would be willing to challenge the government over key policies such as welfare reform if evidence showed a detrimental impact on people’s health, he said: “It’s hypothetical at the moment. But PHE has a code of practice which allows us to speak out and tell the truth so we will do that, if that’s what it takes.

“It’s our job to tell the truth about what is happening and to raise the issues on behalf of the people in our communities across the North of England.”