Health Minister Robin Swann has outlined plans that will continue to tackle the harms caused to children and young people by tobacco and second-hand smoking.
The Health Minister laid out his plans to prioritise and progress regulations on smoking in cars when children are present, as well as preventing the sale of nicotine inhaling products to those aged under 18.
Minister Swann said: “The use of tobacco continues to be a primary cause of preventable ill-health and premature death in Northern Ireland. It is vital that we maximise our efforts to reduce smoking prevalence and protect people, particularly children, from the effects of second- hand smoke.”
Legislation is already in place which bans smoking in certain premises, places and vehicles including on public transport and in work vehicles used by more than one person. The proposed new regulations would extend the current smoke-free provisions to private vehicles where children are present, when there is more than one person in the car and the vehicle is enclosed. It is also proposed that failing to prevent smoking in a smoke-free private vehicle will be made an offence.
The Minister said: “Children and young people are more vulnerable to the harmful effects of second hand smoke as they breathe more rapidly and inhale more pollutants per pound of body weight than adults. The Royal College of Physicians has reported that this can lead to increased risk of asthma, lower respiratory infections, middle ear disease, bronchitis, bacterial meningitis and sudden infant death syndrome, as well as reduced respiratory function.
“These planned regulations will play an important role in protecting children from the harms of nicotine addiction and tobacco use. I anticipate that, subject to Assembly approval, these regulations will be operational early next year.”
The Minister has also laid out his plans to prevent the sale of nicotine inhaling products, such as e-cigarettes, to anyone aged under 18, under the Health Miscellaneous Provisions Act (NI) 2016. It will also be an offence to purchase such products on behalf of a child (a proxy purchasing offence). These offences mirror current offences relating to tobacco sales.
Minister Swann said: “Nicotine is highly addictive and, according to the World Health Organisation, exposure to nicotine whilst still in adolescence can lead to long-term consequences for brain development. In addition to the potential long-term health implications of e-cigarette use by teenagers, there are also concerns that they may act as a gateway into smoking.
“Youth smoking prevalence in Northern Ireland has been steadily decreasing in recent years, and I do not wish to see this trend reversed because young people, who may not have been induced initially to smoke tobacco, instead become addicted to nicotine through e-cigarettes.”
In conclusion, the Minister confirmed that the current Tobacco Control Strategy is to be extended.
“There have been a number of significant developments in the area of tobacco and nicotine control since the current strategy was introduced. As a result, a mid-term review was undertaken and work is ongoing to implement review recommendations. It is important that we allow sufficient time for the recommendations to be implemented. Therefore the current strategy will be extended for a further period of time. This will allow for actions to be taken forward that address the inequalities evident in tobacco use and the associated health outcomes.”
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.
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.”