Press Release

Committee Calls For Radical Action To Improve Health Outcomes For All

Session: 2012/2013

Date: Thursday, 17 January 2013

Reference: HSSPS 07/12/13

Radical action is required if the health of all local people is to be improved. That’s the message from the Assembly Health Committee which has today published its Report into Health Inequalities.

The Committee has spoken to a range of experts to learn how health inequalities are being tackled in other regions and what lessons could be learnt and applied locally.

Chairperson of the Health Committee, Sue Ramsey MLA said: “Improving the health outcomes for all our people is of paramount concern for the Committee. It cannot be acceptable that people living in deprived areas are suffering poorer rates of health across a range of measures, compared to others in society.

“As the Department is currently producing a new public health strategy, we believe that our recommendations are both timely and innovative.

“One issue that must be taken on board is the importance of supporting parents. There is a great deal of research which shows that parenting has a significant influence over long-term public health issues, and that good parenting can mitigate against a range of other disadvantages that a child might experience.”

The Committee recommendations also include a suggestion that consideration should be given to creating a new Department of Children and Young People to ensure that services are designed around the needs of the child.

The Committee’s report will be sent to the Department of Health in order that the recommendations can be considered in terms of finalising the new public health strategy – Fit and Well – which is expected to be published in Spring 2013.

Notes to Editors:

1. The Department’s draft strategy - “Fit and Well: Changing Lives 2012 – 2022” was published in August for public consultation. This document sets out the 10-Year Public Health Strategic Framework for Northern Ireland. The public consultation ran until 31 October 2012 and the Strategy is expected to be published in the spring of 2013.

2. The Committee was aware that the Department was in the process of producing a new public health strategy. It therefore believed that a review on health inequalities would be a timely piece of work which could feed into the Department’s development of the new strategy. It therefore agreed at its meeting on 4 July 2012 to carry out a review on health inequalities.

3. The terms of reference for the report were: “To identify effective interventions to address health inequalities in other countries/regions which could be applied in Northern Ireland, with a particular focus on early years interventions”.

4. The Committee made a total of 9 recommendations in the report.

1. The Department should place the new public health strategy within the context of a wider governmental strategy for the development of Northern Ireland as a region. It should actively work to form partnerships with other areas of government, including departments not traditionally associated with health matters – such as the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Investment, the Department of Regional Development and the Department of Agriculture and Rural Development. The Department should also actively look at where it could form partnerships with other sectors to access European structural funds.

2. Consideration should be given to creating thematic approaches to government departments, whereby health is grouped alongside other sectors.

3. Consideration should be given to creating a Department for Children and Young People in order to place a greater focus on early years interventions.

4. The new public health strategy should recognize parenting as having a significant influence over long-term public health issues and should adopt a “progressive universalism” approach to supporting parenting projects.

5. The Safeguarding Board for Northern Ireland should look at parenting as a wider tool for safeguarding the physical, mental and emotional well-being of children and young people.

6.The Department should consider bringing forward legislation on breastfeeding given its benefits as an early years intervention.

7. The new public health strategy should identify all assets (physical and human resources) already in existence in Northern Ireland which could be used to tackle health inequalities, and provide up-skilling for health professionals where needed.

8. The new public health strategy should prioritize funding for projects which involve collaboration between partner organisations, to ensure a co-ordinated and more effective approach to particular issues.

9. The Department should consider increasing the percentage of the overall health and social care budget spend on prevention to 6% within the next decade.

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