New All-Weather Football Pitch Opens in Marlay Park

April 28, 2014 § Leave a comment

Marlay ParkIt was great to attend the official opening of a new all-weather  pitch in Marlay Park , on Wednesday last, alongside the manager of the Republic of Ireland national soccer team, Martin O’Neill and local colleagues Cllr. Lettie McCarthy and Cathaoirleach Carrie Smyth.

I was delighted to attend the official opening of the new all-weather pitch at Marlay Park. This is a great resource for our local community.

I was very impressed by the facilities on show here which are already being used by South Dublin soccer clubs including Mount Merrion Youths, Mount Merrion Seniors, Broadford Rovers Seniors, Stedfast Utd., Spartak Dynamo, Dundrum Football Club and Granada Football Club.

The pitch also has the capacity to be used as a Gaelic Football pitch and will provide a boost for local clubs, especially during the long winter months, when many grass pitches are unplayable.

This wonderful new pitch will be managed by Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown Leisure Services, who already successfully operate a full-size pitch in Stepaside and two smaller pitches in Meadowbrook.

This amenity will bring great health benefits to our area, offering children and adults alike a fantastic outlet through which to not only practice and develop their skills, but also to improve their well-being.

As Minister of State at the Department of Health, I’m a keen advocate of the ‘Healthy Ireland’ national framework to improve the health of our country over the coming generation, along with programmes such as the Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown Sports Partnership. I hope that the provision of this new pitch will encourage people to become more active and to lead a healthier lifestyle.

A decision to see a doctor should never be a financial dilemma

April 28, 2014 § Leave a comment

We have come a long way since the defeat of Dr Noel Bowne’s Mother and Child Scheme in 1951. Our health services are immeasurably better than they were in the past despite enormous pressures, especially since the economic collapse of 2008.

But money still talks when it comes to access to healthcare in Ireland, with consequences that are graver in primary care than in any other sector.

There is extensive evidence that GP fees are a barrier to accessing healthcare. It is a sad truth that some parents who are not eligible for a medical card are simply unable to pay the fee needed for their sick child to be seen by a GP.

It is also the case that fees are a proven barrier for GP attendance, even for those of us who are relatively better-off. People risk postponing a doctor’s visit even when they may feel something is wrong. And they are even less likely to attend for a periodic check-up, which would make sense for all of us.

Ireland is the only EU health system that does not offer universal coverage for primary care. If we are serious about shifting resources and attention to this sector – as I believe we must – then we will have to start by removing the barrier of fees for GP attendance. A decision whether to see a doctor should never be a commercial or financial dilemma – for any citizen.

When we talk about “free GP care” we mean a system of universal access without fees at the point of use. This will be the bedrock of our primary care system from which enormous advantages will flow. It will allow for early diagnosis and treatment, relieving pressure on the (vastly more expensive) acute services. It will mean that we can manage and plan healthcare delivery on a population-wide basis where every citizen is registered with a GP practice.

Most importantly of all, it is only with a well-functioning primary care system that we can have any chance of addressing and managing chronic illnesses – by far the biggest challenge facing modern healthcare systems.

This week the government published the Health (General Practitioners Service) Bill 2014, proposing the extension of free access to GP services to some 240,000 children across the country who are aged five or under (“the under 6s”). We have provided funding of €37 million to meet the cost of this project. And it’s worth stressing that this is extra funding; it is not in any way derived from savings made up elsewhere in the health service, whether in the medical card system or otherwise.

Some have asked why we have chosen to extend free GP care in the first instance to children aged under six. The answer is that this is the first step in a population-wide project, and young children are a health priority group. Access to GP services will increase the likelihood of childhood conditions being identified earlier and being addressed. As the IMO Position Paper on Child Health 2012 notes, ensuring that children have the healthiest start in life provides the basis for good health in adulthood.

I think there is a general welcome for the under 6s initiative – especially, and understandably, from young families. But it is true that the practical implementation of the plan has attracted opposition from doctors. Over recent months, GPs have organised and communicated their concerns vocally. I have met many doctors across the country, and listened attentively to their views, and I was pleased to attend yesterday’s GP meeting at the IMO Annual Conference.

I am keen to address, and to respond as best I can to the concerns that have been raised. But I have refrained from engaging in public spats or confrontation. I want to work with GPs to create a suitable, acceptable and pragmatic new contract – initially for the provision of free GP care for children, and ultimately for the universal system that we want to implement.

But we can only do this together. The constraints posed by competition law may not be ideal, but they should not be over-played. I am prepared to negotiate on all aspects of the scope and content of the contract. It is only the actual setting of fees that must remain ultimately a matter for the Minister. But here too there can be real input from the GP bodies, as is clear from the Bill now published.

Pending the commencement of engagement with GPs representatives, we have been looking closely at the almost 300 submissions received as part of the public consultation process on the draft contract. In their written submission the IMO set out their concerns in respect of the draft contract and I earnestly wish to address these concerns directly with them.

The draft contract – and I emphasise that it is a draft – is the opening position of the Department of Health and the HSE. It is amenable to change, even radical change, on foot of our proposed engagement with the doctors.

I have invited the GPs’ representatives to meet with me, and to engage in discussion and negotiation. I extended that invitation again at yesterday’s conference.

I have also heard the fears of GPs that their surgeries will be overburdened with additional visits from children. The projections available to me do not support such fears, however genuinely held. This is an aspect that we can usefully explore in our negotiations, when we can exchange research and seek to reach agreement. And we can also look at ways to monitor the new scheme once it is established.

It seems to me that the public wants the Government and GP bodies to come together, to resolve our differences and find a workable solution. I’m not saying this process will be easy – change never is. But by doing so, we can implement an historic and progressive health policy for the benefit of our children, and ultimately for the health and wellbeing of our entire society.

How better to cherish all of the children of the nation equally?

This article by Alex White TD, Minister of State at the Dept. of Health and Labour TD for Dublin South first appeared in the Sunday Business Post on Sunday April 27th 2014.

Book Rental Scheme Funding Announced for Seven Dublin South Primary Schools

April 17, 2014 § Leave a comment

Book Rental Scheme

I warmly welcome the awarding of €206,900 by the Minister for Education Ruairí Quinn to seven primary schools in Dublin South. This will enable the schools to establish book rental schemes.

The schools that will receive funding to start new book rental schemes include St. Mary’s National School in Lamb’s Cross, Ballyroan Boy’s National School, Scoil San Treasa in Mount Merrion, Kilternan National School, St Attracta’s Senior National School in Dundrum, St. Michael’s House in Leopardstown and the Islamic National School in Clonskeagh. 2,069 pupils in Dublin South will benefit from more affordable school books as a result of this funding.

Already, a number of schools in Dublin South have successful book rental schemes for their pupils. I’m very much aware of the efforts and endeavours of schools who have already set up successful book rental schemes in advance of this scheme. It’s great to see that €8.3 million will be divided amongst such schools nationally to assist in the costs of their existing book rental schemes.

The Labour Party is committed to tackling high school costs for parents and investing in book rental schemes is an example of that.

White Hails Government Decision on Free GP Care for Under 6s

April 16, 2014 § Leave a comment

Alex White T.D., Minister of State at the Department of Health has welcomed Government approval today of the text of the Health (General Practitioners Service) Bill 2014 and the Cabinet’s agreement that the Bill should be published and introduced to the Oireachtas.

“I welcome today’s decision by the Government which will see free GP services extended to all children aged under six by mid-2014, as the first phase in the introduction of free GP care for the full population.

“240,000 children across Ireland will benefit from this innovative public health policy. The Government has provided new, additional funding of €37 million to meet the cost of this measure.

“This is really good news for young families and it represents a significant milestone in the reform of our health services.”

The Minister has also confirmed that he is again contacting the IMO today with a new proposal for initiating talks and looks forward to hearing their response.

Airfield Farm’s Doors Re-Open to the Public

April 10, 2014 § Leave a comment

Alex White TD, Grainne Kelliher (CEO of Airfield) and Grainne Millar (Director of Innovation & Development)

Alex White TD, Grainne Kelliher (CEO of Airfield) and Grainne Millar (Director of Innovation & Development)

I was delighted to attend the official re-opening of Airfield farm after three years of extensive refurbishment and development.

Airfield farm is a wonderful amenity for the people of Dublin South, particularly children, as it offers a recreational and educational example of a working farm in the heart of urban life.

Airfield farm hopes to welcome thousands of pre-school, primary and secondary school students from across Dublin South and beyond for active, hands-on learning activities that celebrate food, farming and the natural world.

This will give many children their first encounter with farming and allows them to enjoy a beautiful and relaxed outdoor environment, away from the classroom.

Airfield farm includes a milking parlour, dairy, ornamental gardens, 3 acre food display gardens and food production tunnels that supply the kitchens of the brand new Overends café.

It’s wonderful that Airfield’s doors have re-opened to the public as the Summer months approach and I encourage everyone to avail of this exceptional public space.

I was particularly interested to see the archives of the Overend sisters being so creatively brought to life. It’s fascinating to learn what life was like for the Overend sisters. They were incredible women who travelled the world, won rally driving competitions around Ireland and helped the returning soldiers of World War One.

The Overend sisters committed much of their energy to the garden and working farm. They established Airfield’s not-for- profit charitable trust in the mid-1970s and generously bequeathed the estate to the people of Ireland.”

Funding for 11 Heritage Projects in Dublin South Announced

April 7, 2014 § Leave a comment

I welcome the €211,000 funding awarded to Dun Laoghaire Rathdown Council and the €123,000 awarded to South Dublin County Council as part of the Built Heritage Jobs Leverage Scheme 2014.

As a result of this funding a total of eleven projects across Dublin South will receive monies resulting in the conservation and restoration of protected building and historic structures in our locality. This funding will also generate and support significant employment in the conservation and construction industries and in specialist trades.

The following buildings will have roof repair work done: Enderley House, Mount Salem, St Thomas’s Estate, Tibradden House, the Roman Arch and the Whitechurch Cottages. Both the Rockbrook School and Mill will undergo masonry repair work.

I’m delighted that this Government is investing in our local community’s architectural heritage. These buildings offer a window into our collective past and their maintenance requires significant work and investment.

Opening Address at the Alcohol Forum Conference

April 2, 2014 § Leave a comment

Alcohol Forum 3

National Convention Centre

April 2nd 2014

Introduction

I would like to thank Pat Harvey, Executive Chairman of the Alcohol Forum for inviting me back to your annual conference to deliver the opening address. The work that the Alcohol Forum does in raising awareness of the damage caused by the abuse of alcohol is of vital importance in changing our attitudes and reducing our levels of harmful drinking. It was an honour to attend and open last year’s conference and I’m delighted to begin proceedings again today. As you’re all aware, this year’s conference is entitled, ‘Alcohol Harm to Others: When Their Drinking Becomes Your Problem’.

I welcome you all to the National Convention Centre today and in particular those who have travelled from abroad. The key themes to be explored as part of the conference include:

  • Family problems,
  • Assaults, crime and anti-social behaviour,
  • Passengers travelling with a driver under the influence of alcohol and
  • Workplace accidents and loss of productivity.

Recent research has proved that these problems are exacerbated by and are often the direct result of the misuse of alcohol in Ireland.

Alcohol Harm to Others

In the past when we spoke about the harmful effects of alcohol we tended to focus on the harm that is caused to the individual. We’re all too painfully aware of the harms caused by alcohol misuse and I don’t need to repeat the list of those harms and the statistics that you’re all familiar with.

This is why I am especially glad to see that with today’s conference and the Alcohol Harm 2 Others’ Research Report the focus is expanding to the harm that alcohol causes to others. A turning point in support for tobacco control policies was recognition from the public of the damage caused to others by passive smoking. Similarly, I believe that public support for alcohol policies will be enhanced when people realise that the abuse of alcohol has a damaging impact on the family, the workplace, and society as a whole.

The aim of today’s conference is to advance debate and mobilise communities, locally and nationally, to reduce alcohol harms in Ireland. By encouraging people to examine alcohol-related issues and how they impact on all of us, it will stimulate conversation and debate and help to bring about a positive change to our harmful relationship with alcohol in Ireland.

By expanding this conversation into our local towns, villages and cities, we can help harness a community approach to alcohol. For example, the Galway City Alcohol Forum has brought together local individuals, groups and organisations to create a localised alcohol strategy and action plan for their area. Reducing alcohol consumption in Ireland is not just a task for Government, it’s also an issue where local communities can take a lead.

I think the conference this year will be especially impactful as it coincides with Alcohol Awareness Week. I hope that as a result of today’s conference and Alcohol Awareness Week, we can share the conversations we have here today with our families, friends and local communities.

Public Health Alcohol Bill

The Government is committed to tackling alcohol misuse in Ireland and the widespread harm and pain it causes. A comprehensive and detailed plan has been approved to address this problem. This is the first time that the misuse of alcohol has been addressed as a public health issue.

Our alcohol problem is significant and we need decisive and innovative action to address it. The overall objective is to reduce Irish consumption of alcohol from 12 litres of pure alcohol per person per year to 9.2 litres (the OECD average) by 2020.

I want to assure you all today that this Bill is being drafted in the Department of Health, and we are making good progress. We all know the tremendous amount of work that has gone into reaching this point and I’m well aware that this hard work needs to continue.

The recommendations of the National Substance Misuse Strategy Steering Group Report underpin the Bill which will provide for:

  • Minimum unit pricing for retailing of alcohol products;
  • Regulation of marketing and advertising of alcohol;
  • Regulation of sports sponsorship, specifically replace existing voluntary code that governs sports sponsorship with a statutory code.
  • Separation of alcohol from other products;
  • Enforcement powers for Environmental Health Officers in relation to alcohol; and
  • Health labelling of alcohol products.

It is expected that the North/South research on minimum unit pricing will be completed by June 2014. The study is modelling the impact of various minimum unit prices on consumption of alcohol, along with looking at the benefits that we believe will flow to our respective health and criminal justice systems, and to the broader economy from reduced consumption of alcohol. We want everyone to benefit economically and socially from addressing alcohol misuse through healthier, happier, safer families and communities.

The Role of the Alcohol Industry

Of course the Public Health (Alcohol) Bill and the Government’s attempt to address alcohol misuse in Ireland as a public health issue has not been without its critics. This is inevitable. Delivering the kind of action that will have real impact on reducing alcohol consumption levels requires more than a periodic outcry. It calls for public support and the implementation of policy choices that some will find difficult, or even objectionable. As I’ve said before, there is no easy way here.

As part of the public dialogue surrounding the Bill, many of us in this room have been accused of treating the drinks industry like a “pariah”. This is certainly not my intention.

The drinks industry has a job to do which is to sell alcohol and maximise shareholder interests. They are perfectly entitled to do this. As large employers they have a role in our recovering economy. The drinks lobby advocates the industry’s business interests vigorously and I have no objection to that.

However, the conflicting interests of the drinks industry who seek to increase the consumption of alcohol and public health professionals who seek to reduce the consumption of alcohol really cannot be reconciled when it comes to formulating public health policy. The alcohol industry seeks a role for itself in public health policy areas that extend far beyond their role as producers and retailers of alcohol.

Conclusion

We know about the adverse effects of alcohol consumption on children, families and communities. All of us in this room are committed to reducing alcohol consumption and the misuse of alcohol. The time has come to act. We should try to proceed by consensus as far as we can. But to be effective we will have to be radical. The nature of the challenge we are addressing requires a real public health response. This is what the government has agreed.

In order for these measures to gain momentum and have a positive impact for change, the support of the broader community and society needs to be harnessed, which is exactly what you’re doing as part of the Alcohol Awareness Week. We need to inform the public about the collateral damage caused by alcohol abuse, the aims of these policies and change our attitude to alcohol in general. I hope that with today’s conference and with Alcohol Awareness Week, by working together, we can achieve and go beyond our goal of reducing our consumption of alcohol to the OECD average by 2020.

 

 

 

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