Tuesday, July 6, 1999 Published at 12:16 GMT 13:16 UK
Crusade on nation's health
Targets on cancer and heart disease depend on less smoking
A White Paper on public health will contain improvements that ministers expect the NHS to achieve in cancer, heart disease, mental health and stroke care.
The paper, which is expected to be debated at the annual conference of the Association of Community Health Councils on Tuesday, will also propose a shake-up of the way that health authorities and government can influence and improve public health.
Currently only 10% of areas receive fluoridated water, which studies have shown to reduce the incidence of tooth decay in the young.
The government released its consultation paper on the targets, Our Healthier Nation, at the beginning of 1998.
Health Secretary Frank Dobson told the BBC: "We can expect a healthier nation as a result of what we are doing. We have a specific wish to reduce the grotesque inequalities in health which really mar our society."
He said the government was also spending £15bn over three years to tackle the problem of homeless, a major cause of ill health.
If the government's four broad targets were met, they should save at least 15,000 lives a year.
However, the proposals could be even more ambitious in some areas, demanding a cut of two-fifths of heart disease and stroke deaths in under-75s, and one fifth of cancer deaths in people under 75 rather than 65.
Other measures which could form part of the White Paper include a telephone help line to advise patients about "health scares" such as that which raged over the MMR vaccination for babies.
And the Health Education Authority, the government body in charge of promoting public health, looks likely to be replaced with a more powerful agency which will produce guidelines on health development programmes.
Dr Sarah Taylor, chairman of the BMA's Public Health Committee, said she hoped the white paper would be ambitious.
She said: "We regard their proposals as not bad, and certainly better than nothing at all. But we are disappointed that they isn't very radical."
A spokesman said: "What we are looking for is a government commitment to legislation to ensure water companies are obliged to fluoridate water supplies when asked to do so by the local community."