Michael White

   The government will today announce plans to set up a chain of defibrillators in public places like airports, shopping malls and railway stations to help to reduce the incidence of heart attacks which kill people before an ambulance arrives.

   In a number of pilot projects, designated volunteers who work in the neighborhood will be trained to use the equipment.

   The idea is to prevent potentially fatal coronary damage immediately after heart attacks as ambulance paramedics now do with growing success.

   What ministers have dubbed Britain’s ‘clot-busters’ scheme will be part of Frank Dobson’s long-promised white paper on public health, which aims to pioneer new methods of curbing killer diseases and targets everything from diet and fluoride in water to poor mental health.

   But the health secretary is an avowed populist who is keen to avoid charges of being a ‘food fascist’ and to focus attention on the poorest social groups, whose health risks are usually well above average.

   ‘We want to take public health of the think-tank and the nanny state into the realm of the real world, to benefit real people,’ one Dobson aide said last night.

   In a further eye-catching gesture Mr. Dobson, whose final draft has been the subject of protracted tussles between Tessa Jowell, the public health minister, and the more cautious officials at the Downing Street policy unit, will also unveil the NHS equivalent of local ‘meteorological offices’ for health.

   ‘They’re meant to be like the long-range weather forecast,’ aides said.

   By linking local public health offices with universities and local authorities, Mr. Dobson hopes they will be better placed to predict both short-term health problems, a looming winter epidemic, and more deeply rooted ones like persistent cancer patterns or high incidence of heart disease such as are suffered in west Scotland.

   With Tony Blair anxious to signal to Labour’s wavering ‘core voters’ that his team is delivering on their agenda, the health secretary will also claim success today for one of his earlier initiatives: the chain of NHS Direct telephone helplines, staffed by nurses.

   It has taken 250,000 calls and eased the pressure on hard-pressed GPs and hospital emergency rooms, Mr. Dobson will tell MPs.

   That claim will coincide with unrest over NHS Direct and other government policies at this week’s annual conference of the British Medical Association in Belfast.

   Mr. Dobson will remind doctors not only that the scheme eases their burdens, but that it occasionally corrects misdiagnosis by GPs, including heart attacks dismissed as indigestion.

   In one case an NHS Direct nurse talked a would-be suicide off a rail bridge at Paddington station, London. She could hear the trains in the background.