The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence has been asked by the government to develop quality standards (QS) in public health, adding to its existing programme of work within health and social care.

Announcing the move at the Institute's annual conference in Birmingham yesterday, health minister Earl Howe said the new quality standards would help Public Health England, local authorities and the public health community to achieve excellence in the field.

NICE will initially focus on the development of quality standards for three key issues in public health: reducing tobacco use; tackling harmful alcohol consumption; and preventing obesity.

Smoking is currently the leading cause of preventable death in England; around 1.5 million people currently show signs of alcohol dependence; and the majority of people in England are also currently either overweight or obese, highlighting the urgent need to tackle these issues.

According to Howe, NICE is uniquely placed to support better integration across the whole health system and, as such, it is envisaged that over the next five years the QS programme will be expanded across all three domains.

"By bridging the interface across health, social care and public health, NICE public health quality standards will help support integration across the three sectors," added Gillian Leng, Deputy Chief Executive and Director of Health and Social Care at the Institute.

Publication of the first public health quality standard on smoking cessation is scheduled for August this year.