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A national scrutiny programme to improve wellbeing

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Just under two years ago, we set out to demonstrate the active and vital role that ‘scrutiny’ can have in helping understand concerns about health in local communities so that gaps in inequalities can be narrowed.

With funding from Local Government Improvement and Development and the Department of Health, we enlisted the help of 10 national Scrutiny Development Areas (SDAs) to help create innovative solutions to long-standing inequalities.

Traditionally, scrutiny reviews have focussed on tangible services. This programme wanted to show the role that scrutiny can have in helping an area to better understand the inequalities the partners face and actions they can take to tackle these issues.

Each of the SDAs worked with different partners to focus on a different local challenge, including mental health, geographical health inequalities and the effect that poor housing has on health (see table).

The insight from the 47 local councils involved has been eye-opening and the programme as a whole is being captured in a resource kit for the sector. The kit (due to be launched later this month) will help local councils and their partners to use the scrutiny function to hold a magnifying glass on their local health inequalities and assist them to unpick the ‘causes of the causes’ of health issues.

All of the reviews have produced new or refined ways to use scrutiny. Assessing the reviews has highlighted ‘key attributes’ - those that make reviews successful.

The kit will provide tools, techniques and tips from the programme, including:

  • Local Understanding - how to understand your local community and local data
  • Engagement - ways of engaging communities in scrutiny and the benefits
  • Partnership working - the value of and key attributes of joint working across boundaries
  • Corporate ownership – how one SDA sought and gained corporate commitment to tackling inequalities – via the development of a simple but effective tool.

Health and Wellbeing boards will begin to refine their joint strategic needs assessment and develop their strategies. Utilising the skills of your local scrutiny committee and the new health inequalities scrutiny resource kit will help you to better understand and serve your communities.

Su Turner, principal consultant, Health Inequalities Scrutiny Programme, Centre for Public Scrutiny



Development AreaReview topic
BlackpoolMinimum pricing of alcohol
CheshireHealth inequalities in small rural pockets
ChesterfieldHealth inequalities in a small deprived area
DorsetCardio vascular disease
NW LondonHousing, health and the environment
NewcastleHealth inequalities suffered by veterans
PortsmouthAlcohol admissions to hospital and harm
SeftonHealth inequalities in a deprived area
StaffordshireLower level/preventative mental health services
WarwickshireAntenatal and post natal services for teenagers



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