Press Release

North/South Ministerial Council Health and Food Safety Sectoral Formats – Dublin Castle, 28th November 2008 – Joint Communiqué


Pictured is Michelle Gildernew MP, MLA, Minister for Agriculture and Rural Development, Mary Harney, TD, Minister for Health and Children and Michael McGimpsey MLA, Minister of Health, Social Services and Public Safety.

1.The first NSMC Health and Food Safety Sectoral meeting since the restoration of the Northern Ireland Executive and Assembly was held in Dublin on Wednesday 28 November 2007.
2.The Executive was represented by Michael McGimpsey MLA, Minister of Health, Social Services and Public Safety and Michelle Gildernew MP, MLA Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development. The Irish Government was represented by Mary Harney, TD, Minister for Health and Children. Minister Harney chaired the meeting.

Progress Report

3.Ministers welcomed the progress made since the last meeting in 2002 on a range of issues including planning for major emergencies, pandemic flu planning, technology, cancer research, and health promotion.
4.In view of the recent reorganisation and reform programmes for health and social services in both jurisdictions, Ministers noted that a joint feasibility study was under way and that this will identify the potential for a more strategic approach to co-operation in health and social well-being.

Accident and Emergency Services
5.The Council received a report on continuing co-operation on accident and emergency services. Ministers noted and welcomed work commissioned by Co-operation and Working Together (CAWT) to examine issues concerning the implementation of a cross-border out-of-hours GP service. Two pilot projects are currently underway in the Derry/Letterkenny and Keady/Castleblaney catchment areas and it is intended that the outcome of these will inform decision making on the provision of the GP services in border areas.
6.Ministers also welcomed on-going work involving co-operation on paediatric and congenital cardiac services between the Royal Victoria Hospital Belfast and Our Lady’s Hospital for Sick Children Dublin. They requested officials to report on the further development of both services to the next meeting of the NSMC in this sectoral format.

Planning for Major Emergencies
7.The Council welcomed co-operation on training and planning for major emergencies. Ministers were briefed on a major cross-border emergency planning exercise which took place earlier this year and that further such incident emergency exercises are planned. They welcomed the close co-operation between the two Departments and the Health Service Executive (HSE) on infectious disease emergency planning and they noted plans for a cross border exercise on pandemic flu planning linked to a similar exercise in the EU.
8.Ministers also welcomed the excellent co-operation between the fire and rescue services in dealing with emergencies and road accident responses in the border areas. They also agreed that the First Responder Schemes should be managed through the Ambulance Services.

High Technology Equipment
9.The Council considered a report on high technology equipment which focused on the provision of improved access to radiotherapy services. Ministers welcomed an agreement between Belfast City Hospital, Altnagelvin Hospital and the HSE to provide cancer patients from County Donegal with radiotherapy treatment at Belfast City Hospital. They agreed that the development of additional radiotherapy capacity should be taken forward in parallel with work on the joint feasibility study.

Cancer Research
10.Ministers received a presentation from the Chief Medical Officers, Dr Jim Kiely Department of Health and Children and Dr Michael McBride, Department of Health, Social Services and Public Safety on the work of the Ireland-Northern Ireland-National Cancer Institute of the USA Cancer Consortium. They noted and welcomed the successful implementation of programmes on cancer research as well as the continuing expanding activity under the auspices of the Consortium including:
◦the development of common protocols, definitions and datasets by cancer registries;
◦the running of a Cancer Prevention Fellowship Programme;
◦the use of telesynergy to aid the diagnosis of rare conditions and for research collaborations; and
◦the operation of -a Cancer Clinical Trials Co-operation Group.

Health Promotion
11.The Council welcomed the broad range of co-operation on health promotion in key areas such as tackling obesity, research, health promoting hospitals, training, smoking, workplace health promotion, men’s health, mental health and breastfeeding. Ministers noted the work of the Institute of Public Health particularly in relation to addressing health inequalities.
12.Ministers also noted and welcomed progress and co-operation on mental health and in particular that an all-island suicide prevention action plan has been developed and agreed. They agreed that the Internet played a significant role in relation to suicide and agreed to work together to influence change in this area.

Food Safety Promotion Board (safe food)

safe food Progress Report
13.The Council received and noted a Progress Report from Martin Higgins, the CEO of the Food Safety Promotion Board, safe food. Ministers welcomed the wide range of promotional activities undertaken by safefood. and the support safe food has given to the food laboratory sector over the last five years.

Future Plans
14.The Council noted the future plans for safe food for the period 2008-2010. These include:
◦rolling out five major consumer information campaigns;
◦the delivery of a joined-up approach to food safety and healthy eating in partnership with sponsor Departments, other food safety bodies and other responsible agencies;
◦the establishment of a collaborative forum to tackle obesity; and
◦the development and maintenance of in-house knowledge and expertise to interpret reliably the scientific evidence to inform its activities.

Ministers also approved the safefood Corporate Plan for the period 2008-2010 and Business Plan for 2008 subject to Finance Departments’ agreement and to budgetary considerations by the Executive and the Irish Government.

Annual Report and Accounts
15.The Council noted safe food’s Annual Report and Accounts for 2006.

Enteric Reference Service
16.Ministers noted a proposal from safe food on Enteric Reference Services for the island of Ireland. This paper summarises possible options in respect of the provision of enteric reference laboratory services to meet the needs of service users in both jurisdictions and further enhance public health Following consideration of the Paper by experts and the two sponsor Departments a report will be brought to a future meeting of the NSMC in this sectoral format.

Next Meeting
17.The Council agreed that its next meeting in the Health and Food Safety sectoral formats will take place in Spring 2008.

Joint Secretariat
28 November 2007