The Director of Public Health for Northern Ireland’s first annual report will be highlighted in the west of the province this Thursday 19 August 2010 at 12.00 noon at Gransha Park House, Londonderry. This significant report highlights the many public health challenges that affect people living in Northern Ireland.
Dr Carolyn Harper, Director of Public Health leads the public health team that tackles this complex agenda, working with many statutory, community and voluntary partner organisations across health, local government, education, housing and other sectors.
Dr Harper said: “I am very pleased to highlight today the public health issues particular to the west of the province. My report shows a wealth of innovative work to address the main public health challenges facing our communities, such as health inequality, preventing and protecting against ill-health; detecting illness early; and providing high quality services. This year’s work took place against the backdrop of the first swine flu pandemic for 40 years which placed considerable extra demands on the public health system, but we met that challenge and also delivered a substantial programme of work across the public health agenda.
"We’ve seen significant improvement in many areas of public health – death rates for heart disease and stroke have decreased by around 27%, and for lung disease by about 24% in the past 10 years. In the Western area from 2001 to 2008, for example, the number of deaths caused by ischaemic heart disease have fallen by 33% and deaths due to stroke-related illness have decreased by 6%. Most of us can expect to live longer – typically 76.4 years for men and 81.3 years for women. Our uptake rates are higher than the UK average for the human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine which can prevent 70% of cervical cancers. Healthcare associated infections such as MRSA, C. difficile and surgical site infection have all decreased significantly.
"As well as ensuring high quality care, we’re working with a range of partners to tackle the wider factors that contribute to good health – mainly the circumstances in which people live, and their own personal behaviours. So for example, in the Western area we have supported the Roadwise road safety programme which aims to improve the attitudes of young drivers about hazard perception and encourages them to consider their responsibility for other road users and their own passengers. We’ve also enabled contracts between the public sector and local food producers worth £3.6m – that builds the economy and assets of local communities, making them more resilient and less susceptible to ill-health. Through the RAFAEL Programme, we have brought local, sustainable and fresh food onto the staff and patient menus in hospitals throughout the Western area.
"But there’s much more to be done. Simply too many people in Northern Ireland have poor mental health, drink too much, aren’t active enough, and are overweight. Too many women smoke during pregnancy and while breastfeeding rates have improved, still less than half of babies are breastfed on discharge from hospital. Rates of sexually transmitted infections have increased and while immunization rates are high compared to other parts of the UK, there are areas within NI where the uptake rates are lower, leaving children and adults at risk of diseases which are preventable. We also know that good health is not experienced equally in Northern Ireland. Across a range of measures, some people have worse health than others, most starkly highlighted by the life expectancy difference between those who live in deprived areas compared to Northern Ireland as a whole – 4.4 years less for men and 2.6 years less for women. ”
Looking forward to the year ahead, Dr Harper said: “Public health is a broad complex agenda and there are many areas where investment in ‘preventive upstream’ interventions would bring significant public health gain. But I’ve emphasized three areas in my report that would have a particularly high impact:
- Invest in child development programmes, particularly age 0-5 years. There is strong evidence from worldwide research that investment in those early years of a child’s life bring much better outcomes for their health, education, employment and overall life experience;
- Further reduce the proportion of the population who smoke. While fewer people now smoke, our smoking rates are still higher than other countries. Reducing smoking rates is probably the single biggest improvement we could make in the health of people here; and
- Support local people to increase the quality of life within their neighbourhoods. Communities and neighbourhoods that are vibrant, and connected within themselves, and to others, are stronger communities and the people who live there are more able to cope with whatever life brings. My report includes some examples of how we’re working with communities to build local capacity and we will continue that work through 2010.”
For press enquiries contact:
Sally Kelly, Public Relations Officer, Health and Social Care Board (West) and the Public Health Agency on 028 7186 0086 or 075 9035 3458. Email email@example.com
Notes to the editor
1. The role of Director of Public Health for Northern Ireland was established on 1 April 2009 by Michael McGimpsey, Minister of Health, Social Services and Public Safety under the Review of Public Administration. The Director of Public Health is an independent advocate for the health of the people of Northern Ireland. The Director of Public Health’s Annual Report is the main way that Directors of Public Health make their conclusions known to the public.
2. Details in the report include initiatives aimed at:
- Getting in early, supporting families and getting children reading and writing;
- Keeping older people “Safe and Well” in their own homes – using the experience to change more lives for the better in the future – right to the end;
- Helping teenagers give up smoking, protecting young bodies from long-term cigarette damage;
- Giving people a fighting chance with early detection of cancer, aneurism, diabetic retinopathy which can cause blindness;
- Protecting the population from avoidable disease with vaccination for pandemic and seasonal flu;
- Working with professionals in successfully tackling healthcare associated infections (MRSA and C.Diff); helping to diagnose HIV and STIs – particularly among young people;
- Vaccinating 12-13 year old girls to stop HPV;
- Having experts on hand 24/7 to guide those who get caught up in outbreaks of diseases such as measles and TB; and
- Offering a reassuring advice and screening service when it is needed. Creating public confidence with demonstrated expertise.