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Coalition hands public health to councils

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The coalition government is planning to give responsibility for health improvement to local government.

Unveiling the health white paper, secretary of state Andrew Lansley revealed that the brief would be given to councils along with the funding that goes with it.

Equity and excellence: Liberating the NHS proposes the transfer of local PCT health improvement work to councils, who will employ the director of public health, appointed jointly with the new Public Health Service.

Directors of public health would be responsible for health-improvement funds “allocated according to relative population health need”.

As part of the scrapping of the current NHS outcomes framework, the secretary of state will set councils national objectives for improving health outcomes, leaving it “for local authorities to determine how best to secure those objectives, including by commissioning services from providers of NHS care”.

Outlining the white paper, which signals the abolition of PCTs from April 2013, when consortia of GPs are expected to hold contracts with providers, Mr Lansley said investment in the NHS had previously not been matched by reform.

“We will reform the NHS to use those resources far more effectively for the benefit of patients,” he said.

Care minister Paul Burstow said the proposals represented “a new opportunity for local government”.

The white paper also gives councils the lead in joining up local NHS services,  and social care, through statutory health and wellbeing boards within councils or existing strategic partnerships.

Part of councils’ new responsibilities will be leading on joint strategic needs assessments.

All of the new functions will replace the current duties of health overview and scrutiny committees.

Additionally, the white paper pledges that the new government will set out its “vision for adult social care” by the end of this year, months before the proposed commission on social care funding is due to report.

The coalition action plan published in May suggested that the commission would  report “within one year”, however today’s white paper appears to delay that date until “by July 2011”.

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