NI Health Minister Mike Nesbitt says women in deprived areas dying 14 years earlier 'not unacceptable'

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Health Minister Mike Nesbitt has warned that addressing health inequalities must be at the heart of future provision as he set out a series of key initiatives to overhaul services.

Over the next six months, the Minister confirmed that he plans to introduce a new ‘Live Better’ initiative on health inequalities, designed to bring targeted health support to communities which need it most.

This will seek to pull programmes together so that they can be delivered intensively in specific communities.

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It will cover areas such as: increasing uptake of health screening and vaccination; mental health and emotional well-being support; blood pressure and cholesterol checks; building health literacy; improving social connections; providing nutritional advice; and providing opportunities to be more physically active.

Health Minister Mike Nesbitt. Picture:  Colm Lenaghan/Pacemaker.Health Minister Mike Nesbitt. Picture:  Colm Lenaghan/Pacemaker.
Health Minister Mike Nesbitt. Picture: Colm Lenaghan/Pacemaker.

A plan for hospital reconfiguration meanwhile will be published for public consultation this summer. The paper, ‘Towards a Hospital Network’ will provide the basis for current and future reorganisation of hospital services.

A three-year strategic plan for health and social care will also be published in the autumn, covering the remainder of the current Assembly mandate.

The Minister said that to help refocus and “reboot” health reform, Professor Rafael Bengoa will return to Northern Ireland in the autumn for a keynote conference and a series of other engagements. An international health expert, Professor Bengoa chaired the panel that produced the 2016 ‘Systems not Structures’ report on changing health and social care.

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The Health Minister said: “I am very pleased Professor Bengoa has accepted my invitation for a visit in the autumn. This is not about yet another review of our health service. It’s about helping us assess the important work already undertaken and underway and identifying the key strands of action now required. It is about finding the best ways to accelerate the process of change.

“I believe Professor Bengoa will help reboot the public debate on health reform. Unfortunately, that debate has become increasingly distorted, with reform too often misconstrued as a cost cutting programme, or a plan to close hospitals. This is damaging the objective of genuine reform which is to deliver better outcomes.”

Mr Nesbitt continued: “Addressing health inequalities must be at the heart of health reform and a priority across all parts of Government.

“They are a symptom of the wider inequalities that exist in society. Research indicates that only about 20% of health outcomes are related to clinical care. Other crucial factors include economic disadvantage, environment, education and housing.

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“Based on data from England, it is estimated that health inequalities cost Northern Ireland up to £1.7 billion every year including health costs, lost productivity, economic inactivity, poor educational outcomes.

“Above all, my concern is about the impact this has on people in our community.

“To give one shocking example, how can it ever be acceptable that women in our most deprived communities can expect to live 14 fewer years in good health than those in the least deprived communities? A quarter of the way into the 21st Century, this is simply not acceptable in a first world country.”

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