Making a healthy Ireland

  • Post category:News

Every two in three adults and 25 per cent of pregnant women in Ireland are overweight or obese, and 20 per cent of children are overweight.

Ӣ An estimated 12 per cent of children aged between 11 and 17, and 56 per cent of women aged 18 to 29 from poor social classes currently smoke.

”¢ Ireland’s alcohol consumption rate is one of the highest in Europe and it is responsible for a startling 90 deaths every month.

Ӣ Alcohol is also a factor in half of all suicides and a massive 2,000 out of a total of 11,000 beds in acute hospitals are occupied every night by someone suffering from alcohol related illness or injury.

These were just some of the startling facts outlined recently at the launch of the Government’s new public health strategy  Healthy Ireland – A Framework for Improved Health and Wellbeing 2013-2025.

June Shannon from  irishmedicalnews reports on the new public health strategy

Speaking at the launch, Health Minister James Reilly said that, as Health Minister, he has been “greatly concerned about the effects lifestyle risk factors are having on the health and wellbeing of the population and the medium and long-term consequences we face” if they are not addressed.

For example, Minister Reilly stated that the estimated cost of obesity to the health service is about  €1.13 billion a year. However, he said he believed the true cost was more than that, given the close association between obesity and stroke, heart disease, some cancers and dementia.

Quoting a number of statistics around obesity and its link with diabetes and dementia, which he said were “deeply worrying”, Minister Reilly issued a stark warning: “If we don’t tackle this problem we could very well be the first generation to be burying the generation behind us. To bury our children that is an appalling legacy to even think about.”

The launch of  Healthy Ireland  in the Mansion House in Dublin was a high profile event attended by   stakeholders, healthcare providers and senior civil servants from a range of Government departments emphasising the importance of inter-departmental cooperation and cross sectoral working, which is at the heart of the new strategy.

The Health Minister and his two juniors ministers, the Secretary General at the Department of Health Dr Ambrose McLoughlin and the Director General Designate of the HSE Mr Tony O’Brien were also in attendance. While unfortunately the Taoiseach could not make it due to a prior engagement, Mr Kenny did however make a special pre-recorded message, which was played on a big screen behind the pedestal-seated members of the Department of Health and the HSE.

But what exactly is  Healthy Ireland  and what does it aim to do?

According to Dr Stephanie O’Keeffe Director of the Health and Wellbeing Programme at the Department of Health, who together with the Chief Medical Officer Dr Tony Holohan was instrumental in developing the new strategy,  Healthy Ireland  is “the accumulation of a substantial programme of work involving significant levels of consultation, research, analysis of negotiation over the past 18 months”.

Outlining the overarching vision of  Healthy Ireland,  Dr O’Keeffe said it was, “where everyone can enjoy physical and mental health and wellbeing to their full potential where wellbeing is valued at every level of society and is everyone’s responsibility.”

The new strategy has four goals. These are: “To increase the proportion of people who are healthy at all stages of life, to reduce health inequalities, to protect the public from threats to health and wellbeing to create an environment where every sector of society can play their part in achieving a healthy Ireland.”

Healthy Ireland  describes a framework of 64 actions thematically organised under six headings or themes. These are: governance and policy, partnership and cross-sectoral work, empowering people and communities, health and health reform, research and evidence and monitoring, reporting and evaluation.

For example, there are 10 actions listed under the “governance and policy” theme, which include: That “the Cabinet on Social Policy, chaired by An Taoiseach, will oversee the implementation of Healthy Ireland. The Committee will oversee, monitor and address common Government policy, agenda, targets and action plans to improve health and wellbeing.” Additional actions under this theme include the establishment of a multi-stakeholder, Healthy Ireland Council to support the implementation of the strategy as well as a Health and Wellbeing Programme within the Department of Health.

The 12 actions under the theme of “Empowering people and communities” contain more practical initiatives such as addressing health literacy and creating activity friendly environments such as cycle lanes and playgrounds.

Dr O’Keeffe said that the purpose of Healthy Ireland was to “engage leaders and policy makers across government and society towards the achievement of these goals to recognise that improving the public’s health is the responsibility of all sectors of society”.

She explained that an implementation plan for the 64 actions contained in the document together with an outcomes framework would be published by the end of the year.

While  Healthy Ireland  is a laudable and well-intentioned document, which commits to tackling some long overlooked problems in the health service, particularly the issue of health inequality, it will be challenging to implement in the face of austerity and our ever decreasing health budget.

On reading the 56-page report it is also difficult to separate the “corporate speak” of “frameworks, strategies, and quality and performance standards” from what real difference this document is going to make to the health and wellbeing of the Irish population. As ever, implementation will need to be prioritised to ensure real reform is achieved.