Health Minister Simon Harris has defended his decision not to provide a budget for a major anti-obesity action plan.
“We can’t reduce this all to resourcing,” Mr Harris insisted when he launched the Healthy Weight for Ireland plan to secure a 5% reduction in people’s average weight over the next decade.
The minister pointed out that elements of the plan did not require extra spending — they were about changing practices, engaging with interested parties, and delivering change.
But, he said, there was a need to have a ‘Healthy Ireland Fund’ and the plan was very clear about that.
“Obviously, I can’t announce the estimates today but I will reflect the priority that we are attaching to this plan in the HSE Service Plan 2017.”
Mr Harris said the Government had cleared the strategy, and wanted to get on and deliver it. However, specific details of the funding needed for next year and each of the following year would be part of the estimates process.
Asked about people waiting for life- saving bariatric surgery, Mr Harris said the additional €500m in health funding for hospitals had resulted in a rise in the number of procedures that could be carried out this year, but it was “nowhere near enough”.
The minister said there was a commitment in the Programme for Government to provide €50m for waiting list initiatives each year and reducing the waiting list for bariatric surgery was one area he wanted to look at.
Mr Harris said it would be up to the Department of Finance to introduce a timeline for the introduction of a sugar tax on sweetened drinks.
“The Programme for Government has made it very clear that we wish to see a sugar-sweetened drinks levy in place — I would like to see that in place sooner rather than later.”
Finance Minister Michael Noonan said last week he would introduce a sugar tax in 2018, in line with similar plans in Britain.
The chair of the Royal College of Physicians of Ireland’s policy group on obesity, Donal O’Shea, said obesity was Ireland’s greatest public health problem and required urgent action.
Dr O’Shea, who spoke at the launch of the obesity policy and action plan in Dublin Castle, said he was delighted that timelines were attached to it. “So if this is dead in the water in a year’s time through lack of funding, I will be here saying it,” he declared.
The RCPI were especially pleased that a new clinical lead for obesity would be appointed in the HSE soon.
Dr O’Shea said there was tremendous support for the plan because everyone knew that if it was not it was not implemented, we were “goosed.”
He wanted Ireland to be the best country to grow up in and that could only happen if there was an anti-obesity action plan like Healthy Weight for Ireland.
Dr O’Shea said 376 people were awaiting bariatric surgery at the weight management clinic at St Columcille’s Hospital, in Loughlinstown, Dublin. The number of bariatric surgeries carried out to the end of July was 34, and the target for the year is 70.
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