Thousands checked through Farm Families Health scheme

Over the past 15 months more than 3,000 rural farmers and farm family members have benefitted from an innovative project to highlight and tackle health issues.

The Department of Agriculture and Rural Development (DARD) joined forces with the Public Health Agency (PHA) and the Northern Health and Social Care Trust (NHSCT) to develop and implement the Farm Families Health Checks Programme.

The ongoing three year programme will see a specially developed health check van visit all rural marts on a bi-annual basis and also a number of rural community venues. The trained staff on board, carry out a detailed health assessment of those who consent to a check. After the assessment the clients are presented with a record of the findings and where necessary are advised to attend their GP or indeed are signposted to other support services. Those that are advised to visit their GP will get a call from a nurse eight weeks later to offer any necessary further advice or support.

Agriculture and Rural Development Minister Michelle O’Neill said she always believed such a project was necessary and that the results and feedback to date have highlighted that the need for such a service existed.

She said: “I understand the reasons why farmers in particular can be guilty of focusing on their business and livestock without giving due consideration to their own wellbeing. Farmers working long and anti-social hours face greater isolation and tend to come from a culture of self sufficiency. Therefore there is reluctance, on their part, to seek outside help particularly in relation to physical and indeed mental health issues. Stresses are magnified by isolation, single worker situations (farmers), a lack of knowledge about services and difficulty accessing them.

“Therefore the Health Checks Programme delivered at a place of work for farmers (livestock markets) is providing them with the opportunity to improve their health and social wellbeing. It is increasing local access to health screening services, provides health related advice and information and also signposts to existing services for further advice and support thereby enhancing equality of opportunity.”

The minister concluded by stating that of the 3,000 farmers and farm family members that have presented for a screening 49% have been advised to visit their GP for more detailed analysis.

“This in itself shows the value of this programme and I would therefore encourage farmers to take advantage of the health check opportunity when, in the future, the screening vehicle visits a mart near them,” she said.

Dr Eddie Rooney, chief executive of the Public Health Agency (PHA), said: “The PHA has responsibility for improving people’s health and wellbeing and reducing health inequalities, so the Farm Families Health Checks Programme plays an important role in helping us to do this in rural areas. It is making a real difference to the health and wellbeing of farming communities by empowering people living in rural areas to take care of themselves.” 

Dr Rooney also highlighted how the programme is tailored to the needs of rural communities.

“It is estimated that on average, full-time farmers work almost 70 hours per week, so it is essential that we innovate to ensure that rural families get access to health care and advice,” he said.

“The Farm Families Health Checks Programme enables farmers and their families to access on-the-spot health checks from a portable clinic and from local community settings in a way which suits their lifestyles.”

For further information visit http://www.dardni.gov.uk/farm-families-health-checks.htm or telephone 028 2563 5573 to find out where the health check van will be visiting over the coming months.

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