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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.”

Health & Beauty

Launch of £5million ‘Healthy Happy Minds’ pilot for primary schools

Education Minister Michelle McIlveen has announced the start of the Healthy Happy Minds pilot to support therapeutic & counselling services in primary schools.

The pilot service will include all primary schools, special schools with a primary cohort and primary EOTAS provision and will run until the end of March 2022.

Speaking at the launch event in Brooklands Primary School, Michelle McIlveen said: “I welcome today’s launch of the Healthy Happy Minds £5million therapeutic & counselling service. Crucially it will allow pupils in all primary schools to participate in therapeutic & counselling services until the end of March 2022.

“The Healthy Happy Minds pilot is one of a range of measures supporting the implementation of the ‘Children and Young People’s Emotional Health and Wellbeing in Education Framework’, providing support to primary school pupils with an aim to prevent and reduce mental health issues.

“When we consider that 50% of mental health problems are established by the age of 14, the importance of promoting emotional health and wellbeing at the earliest stage is clear.”

Schools will receive allocations directly, 50% immediately and 50% in January 2022, to secure appropriate support for their children.

The Minister continued: “Alongside counselling, the Healthy Happy Minds pilot provides opportunity for a broad range of therapeutic interventions to be tested at primary school level including play, drama, music, art and equine assisted therapy & learning.

“Transitional arrangements will also operate beyond the end of March 2022 to ensure that no child engaging with counselling/therapeutic services is left unsupported.”

The Healthy Happy Minds pilot will be subject to an independent evaluation to determine the appropriateness of these interventions for primary schools going forward.

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Health & Beauty

Nursing and Midwifery ‘Leaders of the Future’

Health Minister Robin Swann has said nurses and midwives have a massive opportunity to influence and contribute to the successful Transformation of Health and Social Care Services.

He was speaking at a presentation ceremony for 30 young nurses and midwives graduating from Northern Ireland’s Nightingale Challenge Global Leadership Development Programme (GLDP).

The GLDP is a bespoke leadership programme commissioned by Chief Nursing Officer, Professor Charlotte McArdle.

It was developed for 30 Northern Ireland nurses and midwives, across all Trusts, under the age of 35 who have a passionate interest in improving health locally and globally.

Congratulating graduates of the programme, the Minister said: “I know that the programme has helped to develop your global leadership and partnership working skills. It’s fantastic to hear that you have all grasped the opportunity to develop yourselves as senior and strategic leaders of the future.

“The transformation of our health and social care services is essential if we are to provide a modern and fit for purpose model of delivering health and social care. Nurses and midwives are one the largest work force in delivering care and accordingly I believe that they have a massive opportunity to both influence and contribute to the success of the Transformation Agenda.”

The Minister also took the opportunity to praise the outstanding contribution of nurses and midwives in the course of the Covid pandemic.

“This programme is of special significance to me. Back in January 2020, my first action as Health Minister was to officially launch the programme as part of Northern Ireland’s celebration of the International Year of the Nurse and the Midwife.

“The participants were some of the first Health and Social Care staff that I was introduced to in my role. Whilst we were all aware at that time that they would face significant challenges none of us could have predicted just how vast those challenges would be.”

The Minister continued: “Since then I have been privileged to witness first-hand just how hard our nursing and midwifery professionals, and their teams, are working. You have adapted and overcome, whilst continuing to provide the best treatment, care and support possible, often in very complex clinical situations and changing circumstances.

“In presenting these medals to acknowledge your completion of the programme I can only once again thank you and all your colleagues across the health service family for your continued professionalism, and dedication.”

Chief Nursing Officer, Professor Charlotte McArdle, also took the opportunity to congratulate graduates on their achievements: “The purpose of the programme was to empower and develop you as the next generation of nurses and midwives, to learn as leaders, practitioners and advocates in health, and in turn allow you to play your part in strengthening nursing and midwifery in Northern Ireland by leading transformational change. You have all achieved this and more.”

Professor McArdle acknowledged that there is a still a significant challenge to rebuild the health service following Covid-19, but shared: “I have great comfort in knowing that the future of nursing and midwifery is in safe and capable hands.”

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