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Thursday, March 09, 2006

Informing healthier choices: Information and intelligence for healthy populations - DoH consultation

Informing healthier choices: Information and intelligence for healthy populations - A consultation : The Department of Health - Consultations

The Department of Health issued this consultation document a couple of days ago, inviting comments from anyone interested (closing date 5th May 2006).

The public health information and intelligence strategy, aims to improve the availability and quality of health information and intelligence across England and to increase its use to support population health improvement, health protection and work on care standards and quality.

It specifically considers the six key areas which were highlighted for action in the White Paper
Choosing Health: Making Healthy Choices Easier.
* Tackling health inequalities;
* Reducing the numbers of people who smoke;
* Tackling obesity, including promoting exercise;
* Improving sexual health;
* Improving mental health and wellbeing;
* Reducing harm from alcohol and encouraging sensible drinking.

It seems, to me, to be an admission that we don't know enough about the factors which affect the health of the population, and a recognition that the information needs to be collected in a systematic fashion and made widely available, as described in the second "Wanless Report - Securing Good Health for the Whole Population", in which he concluded that good information is needed to identify health problems early, and that adequate information is essential when making the case for change and for investment in health. If the public are to engage in a dialogue on health, people need access to meaningful information about local health issues. This basic knowledge allows them to express their preferences from an informed position.

Wanless concluded that "little comprehensive information is collected on the health status of the population or on the prevalence of important behavioural factors such as smoking, drinking, diet and exercise". He also found that “there is no regular mechanism by which a Primary Care Trust (PCT) or Local Authority (LA) can gather reliable information on its own population”, and that “given the multi-sectored nature of public health, the current lack of
effective mechanisms for data-sharing between organisations at local and national levels, is a major potential impediment to more targeted and responsive public health actions”.

The issues raised in the Wanless report with regards to information use in public health can be summarised as follows:
* Gaps in existing information data flows and systems inhibit data capture, sharing and dissemination.
* Links are not sufficiently well made between numerical data on population health, research evidence and information on the cost-effectiveness of interventions.
* Public health capabilities and capacities need to be developed to make other resources more effective and to promote health literacy.
* More evidence is needed on cost-effective interventions and that evidence needs to be rapidly disseminated to drive local action.

Useful background information on the issues can be seen in this report: The Intelligent Board

It will be interesting to see whether the indicators chosen will be appropriate and whether the collection and publication of the data will influence behavior or how services are provided.

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