NI health 'affected' by pressure on Stormont budgets

Teenage smoking By the age of 13, 62% of children across Northern Ireland have smoked tobacco

Pressure on Stormont budgets has made preventing ill-health in Northern Ireland more difficult, the Director of Public Health (DPH) has said.

In the DPH report, Dr Carolyn Harper said more should be invested but services were being affected by the pressure on spending.

Dr Harper said it was hard for children to recover from a poor start in life, and this cycle continued into adulthood with greater risk of anti-social behaviour.

She said: "Even with modest investment in programmes to support early years, the population in Northern Ireland will experience huge health, social and economic benefits."

The NHS faces a host of problems, with many children smoking or taking drugs as well as significant levels of youth obesity and mental health difficulties.

The report said: "The current situation also presents something of a paradox; the need to spend more on prevention is clear, yet more difficult because of the budget pressure on service delivery.

'Thousands'

"Improving health and wellbeing is also likely to be compounded by financial pressures experienced by other government departments whose policies will impact on health.

"Further welfare reform is expected to have an adverse impact on those who are most disadvantaged."

Thursday's report said its investment in smoking cessation services improved outcomes for patients and saved the health service thousands of pounds.

By the age of 13, 62% of children across Northern Ireland have smoked tobacco, with a quarter doing so every day.

According to the report, the earlier children become regular smokers and persist in the habit as adults, the greater the risk of developing lung cancer or heart disease.

Early uptake of smoking is associated with subsequent heavier smoking; higher levels of dependency; a lower chance of quitting and higher mortality.

Almost a fifth of young people in school years eight to 12 have taken a form of drug or solvent at some point in their life, 13% within the last year.

Economists have found investment produces a nine or ten-fold return.

Dr Harper added: "Instead of reacting late to problems in adulthood which are precipitated by troubled formative years, the PHA is shifting our emphasis towards early and ongoing support to give children and young people the social and emotional resilience they need to handle the problems life can present."

Key statistics in the report included:

  • Almost a third of pregnant women in the most deprived areas smoke
  • In 2010 8% of children aged two to 15 were obese
  • The percentage of mothers breastfeeding in deprived areas in Belfast in 2008 was 18% compared to a Northern Ireland average of 44%
  • A fifth of children have a mental health problem in any given year and about a tenth at any one time
  • The birth rates for teenage mothers in deprived areas are 80% higher.

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