A MAJOR government drive to increase life expectancy in Burnley and Pendle is failing, it has been revealed.

Despite investment and a series of new initiatives, health bosses in the area are "off track" under a major Government plan to narrow the huge life expectancy gap with other parts of the country.

However, Primary Care Trust bosses have insisted it will take decades before their new initiatives start to take effect.

The area's health authority was one of 88 targeted by ministers and bosses were told that they had to increase life expectancy by as much as five years by 2010.

But the boroughs of Burnley and Pendle have been named and shamed in Parliament as being two of the places which are not on course to meet the Government targets.

Five of East Lancashire's six borough's were named among the 88 priority "spearhead" areas and told by the Department of Health to boost life expectancy.

When the scheme was announced last year, health figures showed that there was a widening gap between "spearhead" areas and the rest of the country.

But 18 months on, MPs in the House of Commons have been told by health minister Caroline Flint that in Burnley and Pendle progress targets are not being met - and the gap is still widening, meaning East Lancashire folk are still dying too young.

Ms Flint said that help will be offered to local primary care trusts (PCTs) that need it - such as Burnley and Pendle.

However Dr Ellis Friedman, public health director for Burnley, Pendle and Rossendale PCT, said more time was needed to see an improvement in life expectancy figures.

He said: "The factors that affect life expectancy go back over the last few decades at least.

"It is unrealistic to expect that actions taken today can have much immediate impact. If you decrease the number of smokers it will take 25 to 30 years to come through in general life expectancy figures."

While figures in Burnley and Pendle are not on target in Rossendale improvements in life expectancy are said to be on track.

The "spearhead" scheme began 18 months ago. Areas were told that male life expectancy must rise to 78.6 years by 2010 but in Burnley that figure remains at 74.1, in Pendle it is at 75.3 and in Rossendale it is 74.6.

For women the target is 82.5 years but in Burnley the current age is 78.2, in Pendle is 80.0 and in Rossendale women are still only living to an average of 79.5 years.

Schemes across East Lancashire have been launched in a bid to improve life expectancy, such as a more rigorous smoking cessation service in Burnley.

Dr Friedman added: "We have launched initiatives which are proving highly successful and which will have a bearing on life expectancy figures in the future.

"We have in place stop smoking policies, alcohol reduction, and improved diets and increased exercise and the better management of heart disease.

"Many of the initiatives have won awards and will lead to an increase in life expectancy but its not going to happen next month or even next year. You have to be realistic."

The chairman of the health watchdog The Public and Patient Involvement Forum for the Burnley, Pendle and Rossendale PCT, Derek Holmes, said the figures are "very concerning".

He said: "These things do move slowly but we need to make sure that investment is made in the right places to improve the situation."