Press Release

Report of the Chief Medical Officer 1999

The initial Report of the Chief Medical Officer of the Department of Health and Children has been published. This Report builds on previous Department strategy documents (Shaping a Healthier Future, 1994; and Working for Health and Well-Being, 1998-2001). It is in keeping with the Department’s commitment to the widest possible level of consultation and communication on health and health-related issues with its partners in the health-care system, including the general population.

The general aims of the Report are to describe the health status of Irish people and to identify factors which are relevant to health. A specific theme has been identified and the Report intends to contribute to the development of public health policy.

Health inequalities is the theme of this first Report. Scientific research demonstrates that socio-economic deprivation is directly related to high rates of illness and premature death and the Report identifies the need to reduce this burden of excess mortality and morbidity suffered by the poor. It states that commitment to the identification and alleviation of health inequalities must be at the centre of strategic planning in the coming years. This is in accordance with overall government policy on poverty reduction and social inclusion.

The Report also identifies health as a resource to be protected and developed so as to enable people to attain their maximum physical and mental capacity. The general investment in health and preventive services enhances the health and social gain of the population which in turn maintains our economic prosperity.

The Report comments on the health of Irish people which has improved significantly when measured by life expectancy, infant and maternal mortality. The control of potentially lethal infectious diseases such as TB, polio and diphtheria have contributed to these successes. The Report highlights the need for continued vigilance, however, because of the threat of new infectious diseases and the problem of anti-microbial resistance.

Premature death from chronic diseases such as cancer and cardiovascular disease have emerged as major threats to Irish people who appear to be at a greater risk from these conditions than populations in other European Union countries. Lifestyle contributes significantly to the development of these chronic diseases. Recent surveys have identified particular lifestyle risk factors in Irish children and adolescents in lower socio-economic groups with a clear implication that without major initiatives being undertaken in relation to the improvement of the health in these groups, inequalities will continue into the future. This challenge has been recognised in recent years by the development and implementation of strategies in relation to cardiovascular disease and cancer and significant investment has been and continues to be made in the fight against these diseases.

The Report highlights the fact that improvements in health status and reduction in health inequalities can only be achieved by committed multisectoral collaboration which is increasingly being identified as the way forward. The Report concludes that the adoption of this approach and continued investment in our health and preventive services will be amply repaid by health and social gain for the Irish people in the future which will in turn enhance our economic prosperity.

Read the Report