The Department of Health and Welfare has announced the creation of a new body to tackle health inequalities in the UK – and it will follow the lead of Professor Chris Whitty.

The new Office for Improving Health and Disparities (OHID) was launched on Friday and will see “a new approach to public health,” the government said.

OHID’s mandate will be to work to prevent health problems before they develop.

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Health inequalities are particularly marked in the northeast – where South Tyneside in particular has seen one of the biggest drops in life expectancy due to the Covid-19 crisis – and in September, researchers revealed the “massive” impact of Covid-19 on the north.

The government highlighted statistics showing how obesity and smoking are more prevalent in the most disadvantaged areas of the country, and said OHID “will coordinate an ambitious program” to improve public health.

Health Secretary Sajid Javid said: “The pandemic has exposed the health disparities that we face not only as a country, but as communities and individuals.

“That must change and this organization marks a new era of preventive health care to help people live healthier, happier and longer lives.”

Professor Whitty, chief medical officer for England, will “take the lead” of the new body, while the co-leaders will be his new assistants, Dr Jeanelle de Gruchy and Jonathan Marron.

Professor Whitty said: “Health inequalities in England are glaring and difficult to resolve, but it is important that we do it.

“People across the country can live healthier longer. OHID will help people do this with an evidence-based approach.”

OHID has plans to work with national, regional and local governments, as well as the NHS, academics and charities.

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