O’Neill praises Health Checks Programme

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Agriculture Minister Michelle O’Neill has urged farmers and rural dwellers across Northern Ireland to get their health checked regularly.

Speaking during a visit to the Farm Families Health Check Programme screening vehicle at Fintona Machinery Show in Co Tyrone, the Minister said it was vital that rural dwellers are aware of and use the service which is tailored to their needs.

She said: “This valuable service is instrumental in improving the health and wellbeing of rural farmers and farm families by increasing local access to health screening services. The service provides health related advice and information and also signposts clients to existing services for further advice and support.

“I would encourage farmers and their families to participate in the health checks and avail of this ‘on the job’ service. The checks are completed by experienced qualified nurses and where appropriate, clients are advised to visit their GP’s.

“Rural farmers are the main beneficiaries of this Programme and feedback and follow up reviews suggest many have made life-saving health changes as a result of this positive intervention.”

The Farm Families Health Checks Programme is a joint initiative between DARD and the Public Health Agency with the Northern Health and Social Care Trust leading on the delivery, which provides health screening and advice services to farmers who visit the various Livestock Markets. The same services are also provided at selected community based events in rural areas accessible to rural farmers, their families and the wider rural community.

The programme has an effective onward referral and follow up process is in place for those who need medical treatment or further support. An agreement is in place with all GPs to accept the findings from the health checks.

After meeting with the Programme nurses as well as farmers at the Farm Families Health Checks screening van Minister O’Neill said: “I want thank the nurses and the support officer for their dedication as they travel to all parts of the north to each event with great enthusiasm and spend long hours ensuring that our farming and rural communities have access to valuable screening services.

“Maintaining this service is very important to me,” she added.

Dr Eddie Rooney, chief executive of the PHA, said: “This innovative partnership is making a real difference to the health and wellbeing of farming communities.

“By going where farmers go, the Farm Families Health Checks Programme is increasing accessibility and empowering people living in rural areas to take care of themselves.

“Rural isolation is an important issue for farming communities, not to mention the limited free time farmers have, so this programme is making it easier for farming families to have their health checked and to chat about any issues which might be affecting them.”

The screening van visits the 29 livestock markets regularly as well as a number of other events organised by community and voluntary groups such as Rural Support Networks, GAA and the Ulster Farmers’ Union.