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Northern Ireland Dietitian Tops UK-wide Awards

Joanne McKee, Dietitian in the Northern Health and Social Care Trust and winner of The AHP Clinical Leadership Award

A dietitian who played a key role in the opening of the Whiteabbey Nightingale has been named the overall winner of the 2021 Advancing Healthcare Awards.

Joanne McKee, a dietitian in the Northern Health and Social Care Trust, moved outside her speciality when she became the Allied Health Professional (AHP) lead at the Whiteabbey Nightingale hospital. Joanne was instrumental in the planning and opening of the regional centre for post-Covid inpatient rehabilitation. Opened in November 2020, the Enhanced Nursing and AHP led Rehabilitation and Step-Down Unit enabled over 140 patients to benefit from 7-day AHP rehabilitation.

The UK-wide awards recognise projects and professionals that lead innovative healthcare practice and make a real difference to patients’ lives in the healthcare science and allied health professions. This year the work of AHPs in Northern Ireland was particularly prominent with11 finalists, four category winners, the overall AHP winner and two Rising Stars coming from the province.

Congratulating the winners, Health Minister Robin Swann, said: “This has been a very difficult year for our entire health and social care workforce and I am delighted to see Allied Health Professionals from Northern Ireland receiving the recognition they so richly deserve.

 “The calibre of the entries from Northern Ireland has been outstanding and I want to congratulate all of our winners. In particular, I would like to pay tribute to Joanne McKee for being recognised as the overall winner. This is an exceptional achievement and reflects the exceptional role that Joanne has played at the Whiteabbey Nightingale. The judges outlined Joanne’s commitment to providing a culture of recovery, compassion and kindness which was also reflected in patient feedback.”

Jenny Keane, the Chief Allied Health Professional Officer at the Department of Health said “I was delighted to see so many AHPs shortlisted as finalists in this year’s Advancing Healthcare Awards and delighted to see so many winners. I want to congratulate all of the winners and acknowledge Joanne McKee as the overall winner. Joanne’s clinical leadership is a fantastic representation of Allied Health Professionals in Northern Ireland.”

The awards were presented at a virtual ceremony on 21 May 2021.

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Update on Implementation of Mental Health Action Plan

A progress update on the implementation of the Northern Ireland Mental Health Action Plan has been published.

The Action Plan was first published in May 2020 and contains 38 actions which will improve mental health services going forward. It also includes a plan on dealing with the mental health response to the Covid-19 crisis.

Commenting on the update, Health Minister Robin Swann said: “It is now 12 months since I published the Mental Health Action Plan and I felt it was important to provide an update on this work at this key juncture. 

“I am pleased to report substantial progress has been made against the actions contained in the Action Plan.  This is a considerable achievement, particularly given the additional, significant pressures related to Covid-19 and the challenges encountered by all those working to support people with mental ill health during this period.”

The progress update highlights key achievements including:

  • The creation of a Mental Health Champion;
  • Approval of the business case and securing of £4.7m funding for the development of a specialist perinatal mental health community service model;
  • The establishment of the CAMHS and Forensic Mental Health Managed Care Networks; and
  • The launch of a Mental Health Innovation Fund.

A number of reviews of key services were also commissioned as part of the Mental Health Action Plan including a review of: crisis services; transitions from CAMHS to Adult Mental Health Services; eating disorder services; personality disorder services; low secure in-patient services; and rehabilitation services.  The outworking of these reviews will help inform future strategic policy and service delivery.

Minister Swann continued: “The progress that has been made is due in no small part to the drive and dedication of so many people working tirelessly to improve services and to ensure that mental health is given the priority and profile it deserves.

“However, challenges remain and much still needs to be done. The Action Plan was always intended as a short term measure to kick start the reform of mental health services.”

One of the key actions set out in the Mental Health Action Plan was to develop a new, ten year Mental Health Strategy for Northern Ireland.

Concluding Minister Swann said: “The Strategy is my Department’s long term strategic plan to address the pressure on mental health inpatient beds, to meet the increased needs created by the pandemic, and to put mental health on an even footing with physical health.  I also hope it will bring us in line with mental health provision in other parts of the UK, and indeed, once fully implemented, ensure Northern Ireland has a world class mental health system to be proud of.”

The draft Mental Health Strategy 2021-31 was issued for public consultation in December 2020.  It is intended to publish the final Strategy this summer alongside a funding plan, which sets out the resource requirements to implement the Strategy.

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Health & Beauty

The Rainbow Project Welcome Introduction of Fair Project on Blood Donations

The Northern Ireland Blood Transfusion Service (NIBTS) will soon be starting to assess donor eligibility on a person-by-person basis for declared lifestyle choices; instead of applying across-the-board restrictions which have previously excluded potential donors. Using a donor’s individual experiences to determine whether that person is eligible to donate makes the process fairer for all donors and means more people will be able to give blood than ever before.

It also means all donors will be asked the same questions – regardless of gender or sexual orientation.

These changes to the way UK blood services assess the risk of transfusion transmitted infections incorporate the key recommendations of the 2020 FAIR (For the Assessment of Individualised Risk) Report. The recommendations were designed by epidemiology, sexual health and infectious disease experts to make sure we keep the blood supply safe while making blood donation fairer and more accessible to all. NIBTS are working in collaboration with Rainbow Project to ensure all those eligible to donate blood can do so safely.


The new FAIR risk assessment will be implemented in England, Scotland and Wales will come into effect on 14th June 2021, while in Northern Ireland the change won’t come into effect until September 2021.

Best Available Medical Evidence

Speaking about the change, Director of The Rainbow Project John O’Doherty said: “We welcome the implementation of the Fair Report and the new rules surrounding blood donations. These changes mean a large number of people who have never been able to donate blood will be eligible to do so. We would like to thank the Health Minister, Robin Swann, for ensuring that decisions related to blood donations are based wholly on the best available medical evidence and that policies are implemented on a UK wide basis.

“This is an issue we have been campaigning on for over 10 years including the implementation of an individualised risk assessment. During that time, we have been clear that donating blood is not a right, but a civic responsibility on all of us who are eligible to do so. The focus of The Rainbow Project will now turn to encouraging all those people who are now eligible to register as blood donors. Security and sustainability in our blood supply is a continued pressure across our health service – and while vocal and visible support for the NHS during the pandemic is to be welcomed – one of the most effective ways we can support our NHS is through donating blood.

“While we are disappointed that Northern Ireland will not be implementing the new assessment at the same time as the rest of the UK, we understand the reasons behind this and welcome the ongoing communication from the Northern Ireland Blood Transfusion Service and their commitment to ensuring staff are trained on the use of the new assessment process. The COVID 19 pandemic has had a huge impact on all aspects of our health service. Rather than spending the next 3 months condemning the Blood Transfusion Service, we will be directing our resources towards supporting the implementation of the new system and encouraging all those who are eligible to donate blood.

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