2023 was a significant milestone for the Institute of Public Health (IPH), which marked 25 years of shaping public health policy north and south of the border.
Set up in 1998, prior to the signing of the Good Friday/Belfast Agreement, the Institute provides support to the respective departments of health and chief medical officers in both jurisdictions. Its establishment recognised that a geographical border offered no protection against disease or ill-health and that people on both sides of the border faced similar health risks and challenges.
As a north/south agency, IPH conducts research and provides evidence and analysis to inform public health policy development. It works with a wide range of stakeholders at local and national level to make lives better for all by improving health equity and reducing health inequalities.
To mark this milestone anniversary, IPH hosted a special event on 4 October 2023 to bring together policymakers, public health professionals, and community representatives to consider if governments can make us healthier. In a keynote address, Martin McKee made the case for all government departments to invest in health by adopting a Health For All Policies approach.
The Professor of European Public Health at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine said: “We have long known that policies in other sectors – housing, transport, education and so on – can safeguard and improve population health, but we now recognise how better health is essential if we are to achieve success in other sectors. Healthier people stay longer in the workforce and are more productive. Healthier children get better educational outcomes. Healthier families invest more in small and medium enterprises.”
In response, a panel of invited guests discussed the potential to shift the focus of health policy and investment and to place greater emphasis on illness prevention and health improvement. The panel included Sinn Féin TD and health spokesperson David Cullinane; SDLP MLA and health and wellbeing spokesperson Colin McGrath; CEO of Empower, Adeline O’Brien; ESRI health economist Anne Nolan; and Director of the Community Development and Health Network, Joanne Vance.
The special gathering also heard contributions from the IPH Board Chair Bernie Hannigan, Chief Medical Officer for Northern Ireland Michael McBride, and Chief Medical Officer of Ireland Breda Smyth. Commenting on the 25th anniversary event, IPH Chief Executive Suzanne Costello said both jurisdictions could mutually benefit through enhanced cooperation, knowledge exchange, and information-sharing on public health.
Costello said: “Faced with mounting challenges that affect our health – widening health inequalities, a cost-of-living crisis, the global climate crisis, and a rise in non-communicable diseases – there is a prime opportunity to reframe our approach to health on the island of Ireland and to harness enhanced cross border cooperation on shared public health challenges, such as alcohol harm, tobacco control, overweight and obesity, and the needs of an ageing population.”