Reverse the ‘real brain drain’ for our children, urges Director of Public Health

“I am very pleased to present my second report on public health in Northern Ireland,” she said. “It shows a wealth of innovative work to address the main public health challenges facing our communities, health inequality, preventing and protecting against ill-health, detecting illness early, and providing high quality services. It also highlights the substantial programme of work delivered across the public health agenda in 2010.”

Appealing for a ‘new approach’, she said: “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 – so it is vital that we invest in our children and their families.

“My report highlights two programmes in particular – Family Nurse Partnership (FNP) and Roots of Empathy. We imagine that others have had the same life experiences as us, but too many children are born into circumstances that make it harder for them to thrive. Mental health problems in one or both parents, alcohol or drug misuse, domestic violence, emotional, physical or sexual abuse, a cold, damp overcrowded home in a neglected neighbourhood where antisocial behavior and criminality are commonplace – it’s those types of adverse experiences before birth and in the first five years that can delay child brain development and lead to the ‘real brain drain.”

“Investment in pregnancy and the first years of life makes economic as well as health sense, as modest investment in those years brings a 7-9 fold return on every £1 invested. Let’s create good foundations for our children which enable them to reach their full potential.”

She added that as well as ensuring high quality care for all, the PHA was also working with a range of partners to tackle the wider factors that contribute to good health to ensure a decent standard of living for everyone, and vibrant local communities.

Health Minister Michael McGimpsey said: “This is a very interesting report which discusses the progress that has been made in our health service over the last year. I’m delighted to report, for example, that the Northern Ireland bowel cancer screening programme which I launched in April 2010 has already detected 29 cancers. 2010 was also a busy year with flu, E. coli, meningitis and immunisation programmes amongst other work. This report highlights areas for improvement and the challenges that lie ahead for the health service. We are facing difficult financial times and, in the next budget year, difficult decisions will have to be made. We simply cannot continue to provide the current level of care with the funding available.”

Looking forward to the year ahead, Dr Harper said: “We must, and will, prioritise our resources to public health programmes that are most cost-effective. Prevention is always better than cure and, as an absolute priority, we must ensure that every child gets the best possible start in life.”

– ENDS –

Notes to the editor

1. Copies of the annual report and accompanying tables will be made available on the Public Health Agency website from Friday 11 February at 10.30am.
2. 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.
3. Details in the report include initiatives aimed at:

• Giving every child and young person the best start in life. Investment in early years brings significant benefits later in life across areas such as health and wellbeing, education, employment, reduced violence and crime. We are committed to pursuing strongly evidenced programmes to build resilience and promote health and wellbeing.
• Ensure a decent standard of living for all. Lower socioeconomic groups have a greater risk of poor health and life expectancy. We will focus efforts in a number of areas where, working with partners, we can impact on achieving a decent standard of living for all.
• Build sustainable communities. The views, strengths, relationships and energies of local communities are essential in building effective approaches to improving health and wellbeing. We are committed to community development, engaging people in decision making and in shaping their lives and social networks.
• Make healthy choices. Creating an environment that encourages and supports health is critical. We are committed to working across a range of settings to ensure that healthier choices are made easier for individuals.

Further information

Contact the PHA Press Office on (028) 9031 1611.