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Alan Johnson issues call to arms on children's asthma treatment - 10 years of progress on health inequalities

Alan Johnson issues call to arms on children's asthma treatment - 10 years of progress on health inequalities

DEPARTMENT OF HEALTH News Release issued by COI News Distribution Service on 7 May 2009

Local health agencies and schools must improve the management of childhood asthma to help children lead full and healthy lives, Alan Johnson, Secretary of State for Health urged today.

The call was made during Asthma Awareness Week at a conference on Health Inequalities. Asthma affects 5 million people in this country, including 1.1 million children, and it is one of the leading causes of hospitalisation of children.

Today also sees the publication of Tackling Health Inequalities, 10 Years On. The report finds that over the last 10 years, as the Government has tackled health inequalities, disadvantaged groups in England have benefited from significant improvements in health.

According to the report, men in disadvantaged "spearhead" areas are now expected to live almost three years longer than they were 10 years ago, and women are expected to live almost two years longer.

Despite significant improvements in health, health inequalities remain. To help identify what more can be done to close the gap, in November 2008, Alan Johnson asked Professor Marmot to chair an independent Strategic Review of Health Inequalities Post 2010.

Secretary of State for Health Alan Johnson said:

"We are bringing local health trusts and schools together to make sure that child asthma sufferers in every part of the country get help in managing their symptoms, so they can lead full and active lives.

"Progress on tackling health inequalities has been challenging, but worth it. We have built a platform for future success, and Professor Sir Michael Marmot's review will help strengthen our plans further.

"Our ambition remains as strong as ever despite economic circumstances. Ignoring the health inequality gap is not an option. We are resolved to redouble our efforts to build on these gains, to deliver the 2010 target, and lay the foundations for a sustainable reduction in health inequalities and the social injustice which it spawns."

Professor Sir Michael Marmot said:

"The health of the worst off in England has improved over the last ten years. But, with comparable improvements in health, the gap between the worst off and the average has not narrowed. Although much has improved, inequalities in income, educational achievement, literacy, child poverty, unemployment, local areas, anti-social behaviour and crime persist. These inequalities are deep-seated in society and improvements inevitably take time."

10 Years On was developed with the oversight and advice of the scientific reference group on health inequalities, and highlights how lessons learned can inform current policy, and contribute to future thinking.

In 1998, Sir Donald Acheson, a former chief medical officer, set a challenging target and made 39 recommendations to improve access to and quality of health services, and on the social determinants of poor health - poverty, poor education, unemployment and poor housing.

As part of the Child Health Strategy, the Government is looking at how schools and early years settings can better support children with long-term conditions such as diabetes and asthma.

A Best Practice Guide for Children's Asthma is also being developed. It will help support local services by ensuring that children have improved access to high quality services close to home, and with rapid access to more specialist expertise when needed.

Primary care trusts are being encouraged to make better use of the data on the treatment of asthma - a disease information management tool that has been developed enables them to analyse how many emergency bed days are attributable to asthma attacks, and use this information to plan better services for patients.

Adult asthma will be one of the focus areas of the national strategy on chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, which is due to be published later this year.

Notes to Editors

1. The report Tackling Health Inequalities, 10 Years On is published by the Department of Health today. It summarises the achievements and challenges over the last 10 years between November 1998 (the publication of the Acheson report) and November 2008 (the announcement of the Post-2010 Strategic Review - the Marmot review). The scientific reference group on health inequalities (chaired by Sir Michael) oversaw the report's development.

2. The report reflects the significant improvements in health and social conditions in real terms over the last 10 years. It will inform the Post-2010 Strategic (Marmot) Review on health inequalities, and cross government post-2010 strategy. The Report of the Post-2010 Strategic Review will be published early in 2010.

3. The 10 Years On report shows the importance of:

* an evidence-based approach in tackling health inequalities on a broad front across government;
* setting a national health inequalities target to provide focus and galvanise action; and,
* developing a strategic vision that reflects the social determinants of health and the wider role of government.

4. The national health inequalities target is by 2010 to reduce inequalities in health outcomes by 10% as measured by infant mortality and life expectancy at birth. It is supported by two further objectives

* starting with children under one year, by 2010 to reduce by at least 10 per cent the gap in mortality between the routine and manual group and the population as a whole

* starting with local authorities, by 2010 to reduce by at least 10 per cent the gap between the fifth of areas with the worst health and deprivation indicators (the spearhead group) and the population as a whole

5. Improvements in the last 10 years include:
* In 1998, 3.4 million children (one in four) were living in poverty. This has now fallen by 600,000. The government has invested £21 billion into early years education and childcare. Every three and four year old now has the right to a free nursery place, and there are more than 3,000 Sure Start Children's Centres.

* Greatly increased capacity in the NHS means it can focus on public health and prevention. In 1999, only 1.9 per cent of total health expenditure was on prevention. The level now stands at around 4 per cent - well above the OECD average of 2.8 per cent, according to Health England.

* Infant mortality is at it lowest ever level, and it has fallen fastest among routine and manual groups. A specialised Infant Mortality National Support Team is now working with the areas with the highest numbers of infant deaths in the target group. It aims to bring together the health services, local authorities and third sector groups to tackle the problem at its root. The infant mortality NST was launched by Dawn Primarolo, MP, Minister for Public Health on 22 April

* The proportion of people living in poor housing has nearly halved. Death rates from cancer and heart disease have fallen sharply, particularly in more disadvantaged areas. The health of people in these areas is now at the same level as the health of the general population in 1998-2000.

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