Select Committee on Environmental Audit Appendices to the Minutes of Evidence


APPENDIX 8

Memorandum from the Department of Health

PREPARATIONS FOR THE WORLD SUMMIT ON SUSTAINABLE DEVELOPMENT (WSSD)

QUESTION 1

What input has the Department of Health had to the UK preparations for the World Summit on Sustainable Development?

    —  The co-ordination of the input from the Department of Health;

    —  The Department of Health's relationship with MISC 18;

    —  Papers/strategies/other work that the Department of Health has been involved in;

    —  Whether the Department has actively publicised the preparations for the World Summit and its own involvement?

  The Department of Health is not a member of MISC 18. It does, however, receive papers for information and keeps closely in touch with the developing agenda.

  Whilst there is no major, direct health interest in the main UK objectives for the World Summit on Sustainable Development (WSSD), lack of access to safe water and inadequate sanitation are recognised causes of ill-health and disease in the developing world. The Department of Health may, therefore, provide technical advice to the relevant lead Departments on such recognised environment-related health risks.

  The Department of Health can also contribute to the UK preparations for the World Summit through the WSSD Inter-Departmental Group which provides a forum in which to express views on, and receive feedback about events and preparations for the World Summit. We have been copied papers and will comment and contribute on health related issues if appropriate.

  The Department of Health also contributes extensively to other international fora and work programmes on health aspects of sustainable development. For example, the Third Ministerial Conference on Environment and Health Conference took place in London in June 1999 and included discussion on local projects linking environmental health and social issues. It concluded that environmental health and sustainable development are "inextricably linked and require a long term commitment to local implementation". It also endorsed the role of public participation. The next Ministerial conference will take place in Budapest in 2004. The emerging agenda for the 2004 conference is "the Future of Our Children" within the broader context of sustainable development. The Department of Health represents the UK on the WHO/UNECE European Environmental and Health Committee which is carrying forward the work programme from the 1999 Ministerial Conference and is directing the plans for the 2004 conference.

  The Department works closely with other UK departments such as DEFRA and DTLR on international work related to sustainable development such as that of the G8.

QUESTION 2

Which UK sustainable development indicators does the Department of Health have lead responsibility for and which other indicators do the Department's policies particularly impact upon?

  Health is one of the 15 key headline indicators in the Government's Sustainable Development Strategy for the UK. The indicator is "expected healthy years of life". The indicator is due to be updated in August 2002. Further details are available from the Government's First Annual Report (2000) Review of progress towards sustainable development (http://www.sustainable-development.gov.uk) and in the second annual report (2001) due to be published in March. The Department has contributed to both these reports.

  Now, for the first time, the Government has set inequalities targets. The Government gave a commitment in "The NHS Plan" to establish national health inequalities targets which would narrow the gap in childhood and throughout life between socio-economic groups and between the most deprived areas and the rest of the country. This Department has developed two national targets—to reduce the gap in mortality between manual groups and the population as a whole; and to reduce the gap between areas with the lowest life expectancy at birth and the population as a whole. These were announced in February 2001.

  The NHS Plan builds on and develops the 10 year strategy for improving health and tackling health inequalities set out in Our Healthier Nation (1999). Along with other work in major areas such as disease prevention and health promotion, it will contribute to current UK life expectancy and healthy life expectancy and help tackle areas such as poverty and social exclusion. It will also contribute to tackling other issues such as lack of educational attainment, unemployment and discrimination.

  The Department of Health, through its PSA targets, contributes either directly or indirectly to at least 6 of the 15 Sustainable Development headline indicators—

    —  a healthy population will be able to contribute more to GDP through improved employment potential (H1—total output of the economy);

    —  the effective delivery of appropriate care eg improving educational attainment for children in care or increasing participation in drug treatment schemes (H3—employment);

    —  providing high quality rehabilitation to older people to help them live as independently as possible; improving life chances of children in care through improving educational attainment ( H4—poverty and social exclusion and H5—education);

    —  improving the overall health of the population through all policies (H6—health);

    —  improving life chances for children in care through giving care and guidance to narrow the gap between the proportion of children in care who are cautioned (H8—crime).

QUESTION 3

What systems does the Department of Health have in place to monitor progress on how far the Department's policies are contributing to UK progress on sustainable development and the issues that were mapped out in Agenda 21 after the Rio Earth Summit in 1992?

  The Department of Health has contributed fully to the development of the Government's sustainable development strategy and the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Public Health, Yvette Cooper, helped launch the UK strategy in 1999 alongside the Environment Minister, Michael Meacher. The Department's Green Minister participates fully in ENV(G) meetings and we have developed our own departmental strategy on sustainable development and environmental issues. The Department's activities are reported in the Green Ministers' Annual Reports which record the Department's (and its Agencies) activities (http://www.sustainable-development.gov.uk).

  On Agenda 21 issues, we understand that a large majority of local authorities have responded well to the commitments made at Rio in 1992 and the Prime Minister's target in 1997. Over 90 per cent of authorities in England now have plans in place.

  The NHS Plan will significantly strengthen the links between health and local authority planners. The Plan recognises that the wider determinants of health call for greater partnership between health and local services. The NHS will play a full part in the Government's National Strategy for Neighbourhood Renewal and will help develop Local Strategic Partnerships into which health, education, employment and other causes of social exclusion.

  There will be new single, integrated public health groups across the NHS located in the Government Offices for the Regions. They will enable regeneration of regions to embrace health as well as environment, transport and inward investment.

March 2002



 
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