A PUBLIC health boss has called on the NHS to refocus on its founding principle of prevention, amid concerns about people in the wealthiest areas of a county living 20 years longer without serious health conditions than those in the poorest areas.

Dr Lincoln Sargeant told a meeting of North Yorkshire County Council’s executive the issue was a “real challenge” and his department was highlighting the issue to NHS bodies.

Councillor Don Mackenzie had asked whether progress on tackling differences in life expectancy was progressing sufficiently rapidly.

Dr Sargeant said: “The NHS is 70 years old and we have to keep reminding our colleagues prevention was one of the foundation principles of the NHS. There is no way we can manage those kind of issues on our own. We are stuck with the analogy of everybody bailing out a flooded basement but nobody turning off the tap.”

He said while flu vaccination was one of the cost-effective and easiest public health interventions to save lives, it was worrying that the take-up of it was declining.

Dr Sargeant said: “The programme is delivered in North Yorkshire, mainly by GP practices. Some of them are really good, some need additional support.

“One of the things as a public health we have identified as a priority is having conversations with our colleagues in primary care, particularly GPs, in ensuring they are engaged in the public health agenda. GPs have been under pressure, but that pressure often means their energy is diverted away from prevention.”

The Department of Health did not respond to a request for a comment.