Public health minister Anne Milton (Con, Guildford) said previous governments had paid only ‘lip service’ to public health and that wide health inequalities were evidence that prior approaches had not worked.
Addressing a King’s Fund event on public health on 13 July, Ms Milton said: 'It's clear that the old approach of seeing each problem as an individual issue with an individual response was not going to work and all we have to do is look at health inequalities that are still so entrenched in our society.’
Commenting on the government’s proposed reforms, she said: 'I think that we need to judge how successful we've been by how much we reduce inequalities.’
The government has since issued its response to a consultation on the public health White Paper.
This acknowledged concerns from stakeholders over service fragmentation and the independence of public health expertise.
It said the reforms would tackle those concerns and would press ahead with the plans that will see local authorities handed public health budgets from 2013.
The BMA has warned of worrying 'gaps' in the government's plans.
But Ms Milton told the conference: 'We can't carry on looking at public health in the way we have done.
‘I believe very strongly that the new approach can help achieve the things that we have all been striving for, for decades: helping individuals, families and communities live better, longer, fuller lives without those inequalities.’
She added: 'But I don't underestimate the task. If it was easy, someone would have done it before.'
She said that the country had for too long crisis-managed health and only paid ‘lip service’ to public health.
‘We need to do much, much more so that the public's health is improved and critically, good health can be distributed fairly amongst us, so everyone has the same chances in life.'
In her talk, she also stressed the importance of making public health information more transparent, for both professionals and the public.
She said the aggregation of various public health entities into the new central body, Public Health England, would achieve this. 'We have to start talking in a language that people understand.'