The UK House of Commons Health Select Committee is planning to conduct a new investigation early next year into the extent to which the National Health Service can help to reduce health inequalities, particularly through primary care and public health services.

The panel is now calling for written evidence from individuals and organizations, to be submitted by January 9, 2008.

Specifically, the Committee aims to focus its investigation on the following issues:

- the extent to which the NHS can contribute to reducing health inequalities, given that many of the causes of inequalities relate to other policy areas such as taxation, employment, housing, education and local government;

- the distribution and quality of general practice services and their influence on health inequalities. This will include looking at how the Quality and Outcomes Framework (QOF) and practice-based commissioning might be used to improve the quality and distribution of GP services to reduce health inequalities;

- how effective the public health services are at reducing inequalities by targeting key causes such as smoking and obesity. The enquiry will examine which public health interventions are the most cost-effective and consider whether some may in fact lead to increases in health inequalities;

- whether interventions specifically designed to tackle health inequalities, for example Sure Start and Health Action Zones, have proved effective and cost-effective;

- how successful NHS organisations have been at co-ordinating activities with other organisations - such as local authorities, education and housing providers - in tackling inequalities, and what incentives need to be provided to ensure that these organisations improve care;

- the effectiveness of the Department of Health in co-ordinating policy with other government departments, in order to be able to meet its Public Service Agreement targets for reducing inequalities; and

- whether the government is likely to meet its Public Service Agreement targets in respect of health inequalities.

As part of this new enquiry, the Committee is planning to hold oral evidence sessions starting after the February half-term recess, it adds.