Since April (2013) local authorities have had a new responsibility to provide leadership for public health in their areas, alongside some new statutory functions, with the local Director of Public Health becoming an employee of the council.
I say “new” but in many ways this a return to how things used to be. Historically public health has always been one of the things that local councils were responsible for. The great reforms in public health in the 19th century were mostly led by forward thinking “Boards of Public Works” and the like. It was the creation of the NHS which, with the emphasis on the “National”, eroded this local responsibility. So the return of this function to the local level is an important and welcome reform. It is a genuine piece of localism. With public health sitting alongside other local government functions, such as housing and planning, it opens up the potential for better coordinated and more holistic solutions to difficult social issues.
However, those opportunities will only be grasped if local authorities display leadership. So it is good to see that Luton Borough Council is already starting to grapple with one particularly difficult and sensitive issue.
The Council’s scrutiny function has set up a task and finish review group to look at infant mortality and to “to investigate the issues and concerns regarding the death of infants from 0-12 months old”. Apparently, the town’s infant mortality rate is higher than the national average. Evidence presented to the first meeting of this group suggests that there was an over-representation of deaths amongst the Pakistani community and that a “common feature in these deaths is consanguinity of parents, notably first cousins”. So not only is this an issue of incredible importance but also one that needs to be handled with great care.
I think it is wholly to the credit of the members of the Council that they have chosen to make this the focus of their first move into the area of public health.
For more information see;
- LBC News Release:Preventing infant deaths
- Agenda and papers for 2 May meeting of Infant Mortality Rate Review Task and Finish Group
- BBC News: Fifth of Luton’s infant deaths linked to kin marriage
- Luton on Sunday: Link between kin marriage and infant mortality brought to light in council report
- Luton on Sunday: Infant deaths report has ‘no quality’, claims councillor
This content was originally posted on my old Strange Thoughts blog.