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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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Grants for Groups Supporting Carers Announced

Health Minister Robin Swann has announced the allocation of the first tranche of grants to organisations providing vital support for carers. 

Almost £600,000 of the £4.4m Support for Carers Fund has been awarded to groups across Northern Ireland. It’s part of a £24m package of funding made available in response to the COVID-19 pandemic to support carers, cancer charities and mental health organisations.

Following assessment, 16 applications have been successful in securing funding which will see a total allocation of £594,921 from this round of funding. The activities being funded include provision of practical support, wellbeing events, respite, advocacy support and work to address isolation and loneliness. Projects cover both adult and young carers.

The Health Minister said: “I want to pay tribute to the many thousands of people in Northern Ireland who help to look after a family member or friend without financial reward.  Put simply, the health service could not cope without them, particularly during the COVID-19 pandemic when their role was absolutely vital.

“When I launched the Support for Carers Fund earlier this year my focus was to support projects delivering on the ground to make a real difference to individual carers. I have therefore been pleased to hear of some of the practical supports that the Fund will allow through this first set of awards.

“The awards that have been confirmed are only the first tranche of the overall funding pot of more than £4m. This represents a very significant financial investment and I look forward to seeing how it brings about a sustained improvement in the lives and experiences of individual carers in the coming months and years.”

The Fund is being administered and managed by the Community Foundation NI on behalf of the Department and aims to provide grant funding to organisations with charitable status that can deliver outcomes to improve the lives and experiences of carers.

Community Foundation Chief Executive, Roisin Woods said: “The Foundation is thrilled to be granting these monies to projects helping in the care sector.  Like the Cancer Charities Support Fund, there was a massive response to the funding, which will provide almost over £600,000 to organisations supporting care groups locally.  The funds will be available for three years, making an impact over a longer period of time, which we know will create a meaningful difference in the lives of many. A second round of grants to support carers will open in the New Year.

“We realise some projects will be disappointed today, and we would encourage them to bid if they can for the new round of funding and to really think about how they undertake their applications to ensure they meet the criteria for funding.”

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Health & Beauty

Pharmacy Collect Service Launches for Rapid COVID-19 Tests

Pictured launching the Pharmacy Collect service for rapid COVID-19 tests are (L-R) Chief Pharmaceutical Officer, Cathy Harrison; Health Minister Robin Swann; Pharmacist Ryan McCullough, and Vice-Chair of Community Pharmacy NI, Peter Rice. Photo Credit: Michael Cooper

The Health Minister has launched a new ‘Pharmacy Collect’ service which enables people to collect rapid COVID-19 tests from selected community pharmacies.

“Alongside vaccination and contact tracing, testing is one of the main pillars of protection against the virus,” the Health Minister said.

“1 in 3 people who have COVID-19 have no symptoms, or are pre-symptomatic. The introduction of the Pharmacy Collect service will significantly increase the range of locations that people who require rapid tests can access them.

“The service supplements the existing workforce testing schemes and other community collect sites, which can all be found using the Sitefinder website.

“By engaging in rapid COVID testing, we can help keep each other safe and play our part in helping society return to normality.”

To date 420 pharmacies in Northern Ireland have signed up for the scheme.

Rapid COVID-19 tests – known as Lateral Flow Device (LFD) tests – have an important role in detecting asymptomatic cases. This means people who are infected but are showing no symptoms and may be unwittingly passing the virus on to others. Testing twice a week and on a regular basis with LFDs increases their detection rate. LFD tests are effective at picking up those who are most infectious.

Rapid tests are available for anyone who requires them. All results should be reported. Where someone receives a positive test, they should immediately self-isolate and book a confirmatory PCR test.

Cathy Harrison, Chief Pharmaceutical Officer said: “The contribution of community pharmacy teams to the COVID-19 pandemic response has been invaluable and the introduction of the new Pharmacy Collect service will improve access to testing for the general public.

“This is another step forward to people getting their normal lives back. Many people with COVID-19 have mild or no symptoms, but they can continue to spread the virus. Rapid tests, in conjunction with the wearing of masks, regular hand washing and social distancing, can help to prevent onward transmission of the virus.”

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