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Health Action Zones must bring change. Their funding is money for change and improvement, says Frank Dobson, secret...
Health Action Zones must bring change. Their funding is money for change and improvement, says Frank Dobson, secretary of state for Health.

Mr Dobson was speaking at the Inaugural Conference of the Tyne and Wear Health Action Zone at the Stadium of Light, Sunderland.

Mr Dobson said:

'The areas covered by Health Action Zones were chosen by me because they were deprived areas with poorer than average health but which looked as though local people and local organisations could work together to bring about the big improvements which are necessary. In short, they were places with big health problems which looked capable of doing something about them.

'And make no mistake - there is a lot to be done. That's why, over the next three years, the government is putting£280 million into Health Action Zones. That's a lot of money and it's money for change and improvement. Change and improvement in the health of the worst off people in the worst off areas. Change and improvement in the health care they get.

'The money isn't being provided to fund a few people's pet schemes. It's there to be invested in systematic change and improvement. New approaches that tackle the worst health problems in the Zone. New ways of working which get rid of the barriers between the different parts of the NHS, local councils, voluntary bodies, local businesses, local patients and carers.

'So it's not there for a few marginal schemes. It's there to tackle the big problems - the big killers. And the Government is changing the law to help. We are placing a legal duty of partnership on every part of the NHS, we are changing the law to allow the NHS and local councils to pool budgets and provide joint services. We are changing the rules to help improve primary care premises in Health Action Zones.

'All these things are being done to reduce the glaring inequalities in health - inequalities between families, inequalities between neighbourhoods. This is a top priority for the Government. Poverty makes people ill. Poor people are ill more often and die sooner. Unemployment makes people ill. Low wages are a health hazard. Poor housing is bad for health. Environmental pollution is bad for health. Crime and disorder make people ill.

'That's why other Government departments are working together to tackle these problems. With the help of the Windfall Levy 400,000 more people have jobs than two years ago. That will be good for their health. From 1 April we will have a National Minimum Wage. That will put extra money into the pockets and handbags of the worst off people in work. And it doesn't stop there. The Working Families Tax Credit and other tax and benefit changes will guarantee a minimum wage of£190 a week for a family with a child,£5.50 an hour for a lone parent with one child, and£6.37 an hour for an adult with two children. Benefit changes will also help the worst off pensioners and child benefit will get record increases.

'The money from the sale of council houses will be investedin building new houses and improving old ones. That will also involve a lot better insulation so badly off families and pensioners can afford to keep warm in winter. The Government's transport policies will reduce air pollution and noise pollution. Our successful efforts to reduce crime and disorder will be a boon for the worst off people in the worst off neighbourhoods.

'All this shows that the whole Government is pursuing policies which will improve the health of the worst off. And they will have their biggest impact in Health Action Zones. That's because Health Action Zones have all these problems combined. High unemployment, low wages, poor housing, environmental pollution, crime and disorder. So we've all got to work together to raise standards.

'That is why I welcome the Tyne and Wear efforts to reduce heart disease and cancer through a conurbation-wide campaign against smoking, through the healthy workplace initiative and through better information and help for patients. A joined up effort to tackle mental health problems. That's what Health Action Zones are for and that is what they must deliver.'

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