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“I recognise the importance of the public health specialty, particularly in the context of the wider demographic and health challenges we face. There is an ongoing imperative for public health expertise in the areas of health protection and environmental protection and in evaluating and advising on healthcare service delivery and reform.”
He acknowledged the need to address the concerns expressed by the MacCraith Group about the many challenges facing the specialty. While the number of public health specialists has increased in the past three years, from 53 in February 2014 to 60 in February 2017, and the number of Medical Officers has increased marginally, Minister Harris said “it is simply not enough and we continue to have recruitment and retention challenges”.
Following on from the MacCraith recommendation, he confirmed that the Department of Health has engaged consultants to examine and report on the current and future role of the public health specialist in Ireland; the attractiveness of public health medicine as a career option; and the curriculum and content of the specialist training scheme.
“The report will be due during the summer and I look forward to receiving it and acting upon it.”
Meanwhile, Minister Harris attacked ‘anti-vaxxers’ who “scaremonger and misinform when it comes to vaccination”.
“As doctors, you have an extremely important role in reassuring parents by providing clear and accurate information on the benefits of vaccination.
“Let’s come out fighting. Let’s take on the scaremongers. Let’s tell people — in no uncertain terms — that it is you, the doctors, who are the experts and the people who are most trusted to know what is best for our people’s health and wellbeing, young and old.”
He told delegates that he takes advice on vaccinations from the Chief Medical Officer, the European Medicines Agency, the World Health Organisation and the medical community, “not from random social media accounts”.
“If you want to give medical advice on vaccinations, become a doctor. If not, get out of the way and stay away from our public health policy. We have vaccines in this country that can prevent death. We have a vaccine that can prevent girls from dying of cancer. And yet we have uninformed nonsense interfering with medical efforts to save lives. Shame on them.”
During his wide-ranging speech, the Minister urged doctors to work with him to improve the health service: “I believe we all want to arrive at the same destination — a health service that cares for patients on the basis of medical need, that promotes positive, healthy lifestyles and that values healthcare professionals, their skills and their views.
“We may not agree on every step along the way, and that’s okay — disagreement at times can even be healthy. But I know that at the end of the day, we all want to do right by patients. That’s the big prize and it is what keeps me going on the tough days — the belief that it cannot be beyond us as a country to get this right and to get this done and to once and for all deliver a world-class health service. We have done it in so many other areas of policy and society. Surely we can do it for healthcare.“