29/10/2008

Health Inequalities Must Be Tackled: Minister

Life expectancy in Northern Ireland is not improving for everyone, despite the most advanced medical techniques.

A new report out this week highlights that although life expectancy has increased overall throughout Northern Ireland (between 1999-2001 and 2004-2006) for both males (increase of 1.4 years) and females (increase of 1.3 years), there has been very little change for those unfortunate enough to be living in the most deprived areas.

"It is extremely disappointing that despite modern medical interventions, there has been very little progress in improving life expectancy for the most deprived in our society.

"This, in my view, cannot be tolerated. I am determined to make inroads into reducing this stark health inequality," said NI Health Minister, Michael McGimpsey (pictured) as he launched the 'Health and Social Care Inequalities Monitoring System' report.

The Minister said: "We have witnessed great medical advances that have seen our life expectancy increase and I am delighted that mortality rates are declining due to developments in coronary heart disease, cancer and strokes.

"However, the clear inequalities shown underlined the need for a dedicated 'Agency for Public Health and Social Well-being' if we are to begin to seriously address health inequalities," the Stormont Minister continued.

"It is incumbent that we must do more to engage our population in taking responsibility for their own health. I believe that this can only be achieved through the pursuit of a public health agenda.

"The proposed 'Agency for Public Health and Social Well-being' will give us the dedicated focus we need and will work closely with local government to help ensure better coordination and delivery of public health services and initiatives on the ground to tackle issues such as poor mental health, obesity and drug and alcohol misuse."

Northern Ireland's Chief Medical Officer, Dr Michael McBride added: "Health inequalities are an issue we have to address. It is simply not acceptable that your life expectancy is determined by where you are born. There is also a major challenge relating to people's lifestyles.

"We have high levels of obesity, the majority of men and women binge drink, sexually transmitted infections are on the rise and our levels of teenage pregnancy are among the highest in Europe.

"Our society needs to learn to look after itself more and the new Agency will be integral to tackling the public health challenges we face and delivering better life chances for all," he said.

Both this report and the Health and Social Care Inequalities Monitoring System reports are published on the Departmental website at: www.dhsspsni.gov.uk/index/stats_research/stats-equality.htm

(BMcC)

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