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Ministers Meet Organ Donation Campaigners as New Legislation Moves Forward

The First Minister, deputy First Minister and Health Minister have met with organ donation campaigners to mark significant progress in new soft opt-out organ donation legislation.

Paul Givan, Michelle O’Neill and Robin Swann welcomed campaigners Dáithí, Maírtín and Seph Mac Gabhann to Stormont Castle after the Executive signed off the Health Minister’s proposed legislation on new soft opt-out organ donation legislation, which will now proceed to the NI Assembly.  

Four-year-old Dáithí has been on the waiting list for a heart transplant for more than three years. His family have been campaigning for a move towards soft opt-out law and to raise awareness of organ donation.

Under the proposed opt-out legislation, it is considered that everyone would be willing to donate their organs unless they have formally opted out or fall into one of the exempted categories. The family would continue to be consulted about donation as well as considerations around faith and beliefs.

Around 115 people in Northern Ireland are on the transplant waiting list, and every year around 10-15 people in Northern Ireland die waiting on an organ transplant. As only a very small proportion (around 1%) of deaths occur in circumstances where organ donation can proceed, any increase in the rate of consent will make more life-saving organs available for transplantation.

First Minister Paul Givan said: “I’m pleased that the soft opt-out organ donation bill is now able to progress to the Assembly for scrutiny and debate. This is a landmark day for so many people and their families who are currently on a waiting list.

“Today I had the joy and privilege of meeting one of the youngest, the amazing Dáithí Mac Gabhann, along with his father Maírtín. I am in awe of his fighting spirit. He deserves the hope that this Bill brings.”

Deputy First Minister Michelle O’Neill said: “I’m delighted that we have now been able to move this life-saving legislation forward and it will now progress to the next stage in the Assembly.

“As little Dáithí visited us at Stormont Castle today, we didn’t need to look too far to see the enormous difference this legislation will make in the lives of people awaiting transplants, and to their families. It’s the gift of life and the gift of hope. The Mac Gabhann family – Dáithí and his mummy and daddy, Seph and Maírtín, have led a strong and dignified campaign for change and they should be so proud of the work they’ve done to achieve that.

“We don’t need to wait for the new legislation to think about organ donation. People waiting for transplants don’t have the luxury of time so I would urge everyone to have the conversation with their families today. It could save a life.”

Health Minister Robin Swann said: “The introduction of a soft-opt out system would be a significant step forward for organ donation in Northern Ireland. We already have an excellent record in organ donation and transplantation but soft-opt out will enable many more lives to be saved every year.

“My Department has recently consulted on this and it is clear that there is public support for a shift to soft-opt out. Therefore I welcome the Executive’s agreement this week and look forward to bringing the Organ and Tissue Donation (Deemed Consent) Bill to the Assembly.

“I would also like to pay tribute to the campaigners who have helped get us to this stage. In particular, Joanne Dobson and Dáithí Mac Gabhann and his family. They have done tremendous work and should be commended.”

Health & Beauty

Better Gets Belfast Active with Free Fitness Tests and Memberships

A programme of free fitness assessments and gym memberships has launched at Better leisure centres across Belfast in a bid to get the city moving.

The initiative entitles members of the public to a fitness test and score, personalised workout plan and free month-long membership to be used across the 14 Better leisure centres in the city.

A state-of-the-art concept in fitness management, FitQuest provides an easy-to-understand measure of key metrics such as BMI (Body Mass Index), hydration levels and muscle percentage which will be mailed directly to the participant’s private inbox.

Individuals are encouraged to visit one of the four FitQuest kiosks at Andersonstown, Lisnasharragh, Better Gym Belfast and Olympia Leisure Centres for the confidential assessment.

Whether the recommendations be weight loss, muscle strength or cardiovascular fitness, a team of professional fitness instructors will provide a tailored workout plan and free four-week membership to allow them to build on their results.

Participants can then return for a further FitQuest test to track their progress and kickstart their journey to a healthier, more active lifestyle.

GLL, which runs the centres, hopes the initiative will empower the people of Belfast to improve their health and happiness through physical activity. A charitable social enterprise that exists to promote better health, it will welcome 500 individuals via the limited scheme. The first 100 places will be reserved for health service staff to encourage a focus on personal physical and mental health.

Belfast Lord Mayor Councillor Kate Nicholl visited Better Gym Belfast to take the inaugural fitness test. The £15,000 initiative is supported by Belfast City Council through the Leisure Transformation Programme.

Speaking following her FitQuest challenge at Better Gym Belfast, Lord Mayor Councillor Kate Nicholl said:

“Improving the health and wellbeing of our citizens lies at the heart of Belfast City Council’s £105m Leisure Transformation Programme. With 14 leisure centres across the city, including brand new state-of-the-art gyms and swimming pools at Lisnasharragh and Andersonstown, Belfast is not without the resources or capacity to boost public health through physical activity.”

“While we envisage a city where people are active and committed to living a healthy lifestyle, a lot must be done to make this a way of life for everyone, particularly those living on the lowest incomes. The FitQuest initiative is an investment in this vision and I hope that it will help kickstart many people’s journeys towards more active and healthier lifestyles.”

Regional Director of GLL Gareth Kirk said:

“We at Better exist to make communities happier and healthier through the provision of inclusive, accessible and affordable leisure services. As a charitable social enterprise, we are thrilled to be offering free fitness assessments and citywide memberships as local people continue to battle the physical and emotional hangover of the global pandemic. There are no limits to the benefits of living an active lifestyle and we look forward to seeing hundreds of individuals come through our doors and begin their journey to a better lifestyle.”

Visit www.better.org.uk/get-fitter-belfast to sign up for the Belfast fitness challenge.

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Health & Beauty

Mental Health Champion of Northern Ireland Appointed

1. Siobhan O’Neill is a Professor of Mental Health Sciences at Ulster University, and the Mental Health Champion for Northern Ireland. Her research programmes focus on trauma, mental illness and suicidal behaviour in Northern Ireland, and the transgenerational transmission of trauma.

Following a recent external recruitment process, Health Minister Robin Swann has appointed Professor Siobhan O’Neill as the Mental Health Champion for Northern Ireland.

Professor O’Neill is the current Interim Mental Health Champion and Professor of Mental Health Sciences at Ulster University. She is one of Northern Ireland’s leading experts in the field of mental health, known for her active and passionate involvement in suicide prevention. 

Making the announcement Minister Swann said: “The mental health and wellbeing of our population is a priority which has been further highlighted during the COVID-19 pandemic.  Appointing a Mental Health Champion is another key step to ensuring those suffering from mental ill health will have access to the services they need, when they need them.  I am delighted that Professor O’Neill has agreed to continue her crucial work that she started as Interim Mental Health Champion.”

During her time as Interim Mental Health Champion, Professor O’Neill has been an advocate for mental health at both public and governmental levels.  She led a mental health and wellness campaign throughout the winter pandemic restrictions and has been an advisor to the Department of Health and Executive colleagues on the mental health impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Minister continued: “I recently announced a new 10-year Mental Health Strategy setting out the future strategic direction of mental health services in Northern Ireland.  I want to break down barriers and put individuals and their needs at the centre of what we do.  The appointment of a long term Mental Health Champion underpins the provision of a voice for the most vulnerable in our society and across government now and in the future.”

Professor O’Neill said: “I am delighted to continue as the Mental Health Champion for Northern Ireland, so that the voices of those who struggle with their mental health are heard, and that their voices influence policy and practice to ensure that good mental health and wellbeing is a priority across Government Departments. 

“The 10-year Mental Health Strategy is a positive step in improving mental health services and demonstrates why mental health must be a key priority for Northern Ireland. I look forward to continuing my work with Minister Swann, the Executive, those with lived experience of mental ill health and those who provide services on the ground, to ensure that the actions laid out in the strategy are delivered to help Northern Ireland to flourish as we recover from the current pandemic and into the future.”

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