New health strategy for Travellers welcomed

New health strategy for Travellers welcomed

Health Minister  Stephen Donnelly speaking to Traveller Missie Collins from the Traveling Community at the launch of the first National Traveller Health Action Plan (NTHAP) 2022-2027. Picture: Leon Farrell / Photocall Ireland

Traveller groups have welcomed the publication of the first National Traveller Health Action Plan, which aims to address the obstacles to accessing healthcare and tackle broader social issues which lead to poorer health outcomes, including through accommodation, education, and employment.

The new strategy unveiled by the Government covers a range of issues, from increasing the number of Travellers working in healthcare to mapping the Traveller population in community health networks for a more targeted response to particular health concerns.

The strategy also outlines the serious health issues that affect Travellers, from lower life expectancy to higher suicide rates. 

Traveller men have four times the mortality rate of the general population and Traveller women have three times the mortality rate of the general population, while the suicide rate is six times that of the general population and the infant mortality rate for Travellers is 3.5 times the rate of the general population.

The strategy outlined some positive developments, including in the response to the Covid-19 pandemic among Travellers, and the fact that 83% of Travellers received culturally appropriate health information.

Social determinants

However, the strategy also looks at the "social determinants" of poor health, and states that a whole-of-Government approach is needed to tackle them.

They include: accommodation and living conditions, education, employment, discrimination, income, lifestyle, and trust in health services. It said many Travellers live in overcrowded conditions, with many residing in unauthorised sites where basic facilities such as electricity and water are lacking.

The strategy referred to an explicit focus on the Traveller population so measures are implemented tailored to their specific needs, as well as "mainstreaming and responding to Traveller health needs and addressing Traveller health inequalities in existing and forthcoming health policy and services".

There are also six mental health actions, with Government Minister Frank Feighan and Mary Butler acknowledging in the foreword the health inequalities that need to be addressed.

'Systemic racism'

Mary Brigid Collins of the Pavee Point Traveller Primary Health Care Project said the strategy was to be welcomed, adding: "It acknowledges the systemic racism and discrimination that has existed for years, it acknowledges the social determinants of health — education, employment, and accommodation — and commits to strengthening partnership working between the HSE, Traveller health units, and local Traveller organisations/Traveller primary healthcare projects in the design and delivery of health services.” 

Like all plans, you could be good at publishing it, but you need the means to implement it and the resources.

"It won't do it overnight, it will take a long time — but hopefully it will change things for the next generation coming up."

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