The Department of Health is providing €1.3 million in funding in 2023 to support the implementation of a new national action plan aiming to combat health inequalities among the Traveller community.
The National Traveller Health Action Plan (NTHAP) was developed by the HSE in consultation with Traveller representative organisations. The plan was launched on Monday at the Department of Health.
Travellers have a lower life expectancy than the general population, with a gap of up to 13 years, while Travellers aged between 34- and 54-years-old are three times as likely to have poor health or a disability, compared to the general population.
The plan includes health and social care interventions including mental healthcare and chronic disease diagnosis, early interventions and management.
It has four main goals, including to “improve Traveller’s equality of access, participation and outcomes in mainstream health services” and “enhancing Travellers’ access to culturally appropriate primary healthcare through investment in Traveller Health units”.
Speaking at the launch, Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly said it was his Department’s “priority to improve access to healthcare for socially excluded groups”.
The Irish State had “not done enough for Traveller health”, Mr Donnelly said. “It has not provided the services it should have provided… The State has not done its job. Today is about acknowledging that and beginning to fix it.”
Mr Donnelly described the action plan as a “comprehensive public health response to the health needs of Travellers”. In particular, he welcomed the focus on the mental health needs of Travellers.
Minister for Public Health Frank Feighan said Travellers have “the right to the highest attainable standard of health”.
“Regrettably, the improvements in the health of the Irish population have not benefited the Traveller community who continue to experience severe health inequalities, reflected in a shorter life and a poorer quality of health,” Mr Feighan said.
“This initiative tailors mainstream health policy to take account of the specific social factors influencing the health of Travellers.”
Pavee Point Traveller and Roma Centre welcomed the publication of the action plan as “vital in order to address Travel health inequalities”.
Pavee Point and other Traveller organisations had been advocating for such a plan for 12 years.
“This is a very important plan. Travellers, Traveller organisations and Primary Health Care Projects around the country have worked very hard with the HSE to ensure that this plan has the potential to bring about real positive change for our community,” said Mary Brigid Collins, of Pavee Point Traveller Primary Health Care Project.
“This plan is important because 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,” she said.
The HSE will now establish a steering group to monitor and report on the implementation of the plan at national and regional levels. Traveller health units will also develop a five-year implementation plan and publish an annual report.