15 Jan 2016
The Public Health Act (Northern Ireland) 1967 has not been updated in any significant respect since it became law. In the intervening years new threats to public health have emerged, and public health legislation in other jurisdictions and internationally has been updated to enable governments and public authorities to respond effectively to a wide range of incidents and emergencies involving not only infectious diseases but also chemical and radiological contamination.
Key points from IPH response
- IPH recommends that the public health legislation must primarily be fit for purpose to address the major threats to population health currently facing Northern Ireland, encompassing both communicable and non-communicable diseases.
- We believe a new Public Health Act would be stronger if underpinned by a set of principles, consistent with the values of ‘Making Life Better – A whole system framework for public health’ to provide coherence in the creation of new public health legislation.
- IPH recommends that the legislation provide for the use of a Health in All Policies approach and mandatory Health Impact Assessment of policies likely to influence health.
- We support the view that the new legislation should adopt an ‘all hazards’ approach. The increasingly diverse nature of infectious diseases and public health threats supports the case for an ‘all hazards’ approach.
- IPH supports a view that the new legislation should describe, for Ministers and relevant statutory bodies, their functions, duties and powers in relation to public health. We believe this approach will help establish clear lines of responsibility and accountability for actions and responses when a major public health incident or outbreak occurs.
- Regulation and legislation are powerful tools in addressing health inequalities. Whilst the 1967 Act did not take account of health inequalities, we would strongly recommend that measures to tackle and address health inequalities are embedded within any future legislation.
- Social justice and human rights are strongly linked to inequalities and if appropriately addressed within the new legislation, could make an important contribution in tackling health inequalities.
- A whole of government approach is required to address 21st century public health issues and public health organisations need support to adequately address the social, economic and cultural environments which impact on health.
- Any new Public Health Act should take account of individual health behaviours and the wider societal influences on health. Promoting and creating healthy environments should be a fundamental aspect of any new public health law.