AN innovative programme aimed at improving the health and wellbeing of farmers and their families has been launched today (Wednesday 7 November).
The Farm Families Health Checks Programme aimed at increasing local access to health screening services was jointly launched by Minister for Agriculture and Rural Development Michelle O’Neill and Health Minister Edwin Poots. This joint initiative between DARD and the Public Health agency (PHA) will consist of a mobile unit which will visit local farmers’ markets and rural community events to offer on-the-spot health checks consisting of Blood Pressure monitoring, BMI, cholesterol check and diabetic screening. In addition, individual lifestyle advice will be given on a range of health issues and onward referral to local support services as required.
Speaking at the launch, Agriculture Minister, Michelle O’Neill said: “Farmers lead very busy lives, often working alone which can have implications for both their mental and physical health. These pressures are impacting negatively on their health which can lead ultimately to health deterioration and the need for more extensive care in the long-term. This in a lot of cases could be avoided by people and in this case, farmers accessing timely and appropriate care from health care professionals and in particular their GP.
“This issue has been identified clearly in research and as an action in the Rural White Paper action plan. Through DARD’s Tackling Poverty and Social Isolation framework we have been able to partner with the Department of Health, the Public Health Agency and Health Trusts to develop and implement this Farm Families Health Checks Programme.
“Since the programme’s introduction a few months ago almost 1,000 people have been seen at both Farmers Marts and community events in the north. This clearly demonstrates that the farming community has an interest in finding out about healthy lifestyles and maintaining good physical and mental health. It is evident that there is a need for this type of initiative, where farmers can access healthcare advice in a place, and at a time, that is convenient to them.”
Health Minister Edwin Poots added that whilst rural life can have its rewards, there are many problems facing the rural community at all stages of life. The Minister said: “There is a perception that farming is an idyllic life – out in the fresh air and the green open countryside – and part of that is true, but the reality is that some farmers are at risk of poor health due to a number of factors including isolation and stress, financial worries and an increased risk of accidents.
“Evidence shows that farmers in general are under-users of health service provision. This reluctance may be due to a range of factors including the solitary nature of their work; the demands of long working hours and the financial pressures of running a business in difficult economic times. There is also a particular challenge within many rural communities given the fact that people may often live a considerable distance from where health services are provided. This programme aims to bring care closer to farmers and their families, giving them more opportunity to use their health service when they need it and at a time that suits their lifestyle.”
Dr Eddie Rooney, Chief Executive, PHA, said: “This innovative partnership will make a real difference to the health and wellbeing of farming communities. By going where farmers go, the Farm Families Health Checks Programme will increase accessibility and empower 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 will make it as easier for farming families to have their health checked and to chat about any issues which might be affecting them.
“This programme reflects the core goal of the PHA to help improve the health and wellbeing of communities across Northern Ireland and shows how by working in partnership we can make a real difference in people’s lives.”