Consultation Opens For New Health Bill For NI

Consultation on a new Public Health Bill for Northern Ireland.

The Department of Health has launched a consultation asking for views on new health protection measures, being implemented through a Public Health Bill to replace the current Public Health Act (Northern Ireland) 1967.

The overarching principle of the legislation is to protect the population against various forms of infection and contamination, enabling us to respond to public health emergencies.

The legislation provides powers and duties for the health management of, and mitigation against, infection and contamination including biological, chemical and radiological in addition to infectious diseases, which is the current focus of the 1967 Act.

The Killyleagh Road bridge: many anglers, canoeists, paddle-boarders and walkers use the River Quoile in the stretches below the sewage works in Downpatrick. This new legislation could provide a statutory, increased safeguard against the risk of the spread of disease and contamination.

It is proposed that the new Bill will:

  • include all infection and contamination that present, or could present, a significant harm to human health. This all hazards approach aligns with the legislative frameworks in other UK jurisdictions;
  • align with the World Health Organization International Health Regulations published in 2005;
  • update certain powers around restrictions on employment, quarantine, isolation and medical examination;
  • clarify roles and responsibilities for different authorities; and
  • ensure that powers to intervene are proportionate to the public health risk and therefore compatible with the Human Rights Act 1998.

The procedural steps included in the proposals provide powers and clarity in relation to three main areas:

  • a duty on registered medical practitioners to notify the Public Health Agency of any incident that may cause a risk to public health;
  • powers for the Public Health Agency to investigate and risk assess the threat to public health of an infection, contamination or infectious disease;
  • powers for the Public Health Agency to respond to the threat to mitigate the impact on public health.

The Consultation is open for 12-weeks and closes on 27 September 2024.

The Consultation documents are available on the Department’s website:

NI Health Minister Mike Nesbitt.

Health Minister Mike Nesbitt said: “Our current public health legislative framework needs to be updated in order that Northern Ireland can respond to 21st century public health emergencies.

“The overarching principle of the legislation is to protect our citizens against various forms of infection and contamination including biological, chemical and radiological in addition to our current legislation which focuses on infectious diseases.

“The Public Health Bill will give the Public Health Agency powers to investigate, risk assess and respond to infectious diseases and other infections or contaminants that affect public health.

“It will bring our Public Health legislation into further alignment internationally and provide the Department with powers to make regulations that clarify the roles and responsibilities of those tasked with delivering new health protection measures.”

It would also be useful if the Assembly adopted an Environmental Protection Agency with teeth. That would doubly assure the people of Downpatrick especially that if their town floods again that there will be some extra monitoring in place that could further optimise public safety. Government needs to be joined up on this.

Local campaign organisations such as Lecale Conservation and Save the Quoile would welcome increased safeguards.