Speech by Minister Martin at launch of Traveller Health – a National Strategy 2002 – 2005

Ladies and Gentlemen

I am delighted to be here this afternoon to launch Traveller Health – a National Strategy 2002 to 2005.

Travellers are a distinct minority group of Irish people with their own culture and beliefs. For many years and for a variety of reasons, the Traveller population has experienced a level of health, which falls far short of that enjoyed by the general population. For example, we know that Travellers die at a younger age than the population in general. This has implications for our strategic approach to the planning and delivery of an equitable health service in accordance with national policy. This Traveller Health Strategy explores these implications and provides a clear statement of policy which focuses on the underlying problems associated with the poor health status of Travellers and sets out a clear and practical plan for specific improvements in that status. The Traveller Health Strategy will operate in the context of the social inclusion policy of the new National Health Strategy “Quality and Fairness – A Health System for You”.

I would like to give you a brief background to the formulation of the Traveller Health Strategy and to the development of other initiatives in relation to Traveller health. The Task Force on the Travelling Community recommended that a Traveller Health Advisory Committee should be appointed by the Minister for Health and that its brief should include the drawing up of a national strategy to improve the health status of the Traveller community. In 1998 a Traveller Health Advisory Committee was established. This Committee comprises Department of Health staff, Health Board staff and representatives from Traveller organisations and advises on policy in relation to Traveller health.

The Task Force on the Travelling Community also recommended that a Traveller Health Unit should be set up in each Health Board area and should work in partnership with local Traveller organisations. Traveller Health Units have now been set up in each Health Board area, in partnership with local Traveller organisations and in some Health Board areas, Primary Health Care for Travellers Projects have been set up involving Community Health Workers who have been drawn from the Traveller community itself.

Travellers have a right to appropriate access to Healthcare Services, which take into account their particular needs, culture and way of life. The involvement of Travellers themselves in the delivery of health services is considered crucial in bridging the gap between the Traveller Community and access to health services. This has been achieved to some extent through the involvement of Travellers and Traveller organisations on the Traveller Health Advisory Committee and in the Traveller Health Units and Primary Health Care for Travellers Projects and will be further developed through the implementation of the actions proposed in the Strategy itself. The Traveller Health Advisory Committee has been crucial to the preparation of this Strategy. The Committee identified the factors, which adversely affect Travellers’ health and this Strategy aims to act on the Committee’s recommendations in addressing these difficulties. There are 122 Actions Proposed in the Strategy, which can be broadly summarised as follows:

  • Establishment of active partnerships between Travellers, their representative organisations and health service personnel in the provision of health services.
  • Provision of awareness training for health personnel in relation to Traveller culture, including Traveller perspectives on health and illness.
  • Strengthening of Traveller Health Units comprising Health Board staff and Traveller representatives, with responsibility for planning and implementing the Strategy in each Health Board.
  • Development of initiatives to increase Travellers´ awareness of general medical services and to make services more accessible, having regard to the Travellers’ lifestyle.
  • Provision of designated Public Health Nurses to work specifically with Traveller communities.
  • A Traveller Needs Assessment and Health Status Study, the results of which will inform appropriate actions on Travellers´ health.
  • Replication of the successful “Primary Health Care for Travellers Project”, which established a model for Traveller participation in the development of health services.
  • Establishment of an appropriate liaison arrangement between the Department of Health and Children and the Department of the Environment and Local Government and including representatives from Traveller organisations, to address issues of common concern relating to Travellers.

My Department is fully committed to implementing this Strategy within the period up to the end of 2005. Its effectiveness however, will be determined by the commitment of health service staff, administrators and indeed, Travellers and Traveller organisations to work together to change knowledge and attitudes among the settled community and among the Traveller community itself in relation to health issues. A total of some €9 m additional funding will be provided over the period 2002 to 2005 to implement the Strategy. While the Traveller Health Units will monitor the delivery of services to Travellers and collect data on Traveller health and utilisation of services, particular attention will be paid to the measurement of service provision under the Strategy itself, by requiring annual reports from each Health Board to my Department accounting for their specific allocation of the funding earmarked for this Strategy.

Finally, I would like to place on record my sincere appreciation of the contribution made to the development of this Strategy by the members of the Traveller Health Advisory Committee. I would also like to thank everybody in the Department of Health and Children, the Eastern Regional Health Authority, the Health Boards and various government departments who participated in the consultation process. Particular gratitude is due to the members of the Travelling community who, through their representative bodies, have contributed so much to the development of this Strategy. I very much welcome the publication of this Strategy and I would urge all involved to make every effort to ensure the successful implementation of “Traveller Health – a National Strategy 2002-2005”.

Thank you.