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News / February 27, 2008

HSE launches National Intercultural Health Strategy

by Guy Hiscott

Support groups have welcomed the five-year plan from the Health Service Executive (HSE) to improve access to health services among foreign nationals and ethnic minorities.

Minister for Health and Children, Mary Harney TD, and CEO of the HSE, Professor Brendan Drumm, launched the National Intercultural Health Strategy at the Mansion House in Dublin on Thursday 21 February.

Ireland has the fastest growing population in the European Union. Figures indicate that the population of Ireland increased from 3,917,203 in 2002 to 4,234,925 in 2006. This represents an increase in population of 8.1%. Migration is named as the dominant factor in this increase and according to Census 2006 there are 420,000 foreign nationals now living in Ireland. By 2030, it is expected that 18% of the population will be foreign born.

Mirroring these trends, the backgrounds of healthcare staff and people to whom services are provided are also changing. For example, 33% of those working in the dental field are from overseas.

It is timely then that the HSE, in recognition of these changing demographics and the consequent health needs they suggest, has developed a National Intercultural Health Strategy. The primary objective of the strategy is to provide a framework through which service users and providers are supported in addressing the unique care and support needs of people from diverse cultural and ethnic backgrounds.

The strategy was developed following a series of consultation events across the country. Consultation included regional workshops, focus groups, individual interviews, seminars and surveys with service users, HSE staff, and representatives from voluntary organisations working with ethnic minorities.

Speaking at the launch of the strategy, Ms Alice O’Flynn, HSE Assistant National Director for Social Inclusion, said: ‘It is widely acknowledged that people from minority groups are at increased risk from poverty and social exclusion. Irish travellers, asylum seekers, refugees and migrant workers are especially vulnerable and members of these groups may be exposed to racism and discrimination. This coupled with language and cultural barriers may further compromise health and well-being.

‘This strategy advises on the optimum way towards planning and delivering of care and support in an equal, accessible and effective way, while acknowledging and valuing the diversity of all service users and providers.’

Professor Brendan Drumm said: ‘It is vital that we take full account of the changing nature of our service providers and service users when planning and delivering services and recruiting, supporting and retaining staff. We must also ensure that our services are provided equally to all and respond appropriately to the specific health needs of new and well-established minority communities. The National Intercultural Strategy has an important role to play in ensuring we do this in an inclusive, respectful and fair way.’

Implementation of the strategy will be mainstreamed into annual HSE service delivery over the coming five years. To ensure a planned approach to this a specific advisory group will be established and a detailed action plan developed.