NICHS | Policy
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Neil roundtable

Our Policies

NICHS aims to utilise findings from ours and other people’s research to inform chest, heart and stroke policy areas that we want to influence and change.  We also listen to local people and clients to hear their needs and issues, which are reflected in the areas we want to influence and change.

We use this feedback and research evidence to influence our decision makers such as health care leaders, civil servants, politicians and the Government to improves the lives of our Northern Ireland chest, heart and stroke community who we have represented for over 70 years.

    • Coronary Heart Disease (CHD) is a leading cause of disability and deaths in NI
    • Around 17 people per day attend the hospital with a heart attack and around 5 people per day die from CHD in NI.
    • Education, early detection, prevention and community support is needed to reduce these numbers and improve health.

    Cardiac Waiting Lists

    NICHS are extremely concerned about the length of waiting lists in Northern Ireland which are much worse than any other part of the UK. Waiting lists for diagnostic tests such as echocardiograms are unacceptably long, and we have pressed government to address the workforce issues that are part of the problem.

    Waiting lists for inpatient and outpatient appointments are also excessive and must be addressed as part of the drive to transform the health service in Northern Ireland.

    • We will continue to raise this issue and call for further action to reduce waiting lists.

    Out-of-Hospital Cardiac Arrest (OHCA) - CPR and Defibrillation

    Cardiac arrest is a critical medical emergency, where the heart stops pumping blood around the body. In Northern Ireland in a typical year over 1,400 people suffer an out-of-hospital cardiac arrest. Early cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) and a defibrillator shock are vital to a person's chances of surviving a cardiac arrest which is reduced by 10% for every minute of delay without early cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR).

    NICHS is a long-standing member of the Departments of Health NI Community Resuscitation Strategy Group, chaired by the Northern Ireland Ambulance Services. Our aim is to increase survival for those who suffer an out-of-hospital cardiac arrest by having more people in the community trained to perform CPR and to use an automated external defibrillator.

    NICHS Strongly supports:

    • The provision of life–saving equipment in the community which is registered on the NI Ambulance Service Website, however NICHS does not itself provide equipment
    • Encourages People to undergo CPR training, but NICHS does not itself provide training. We recognise that training in the use of defibs is not essential. People are encouraged to call 999 who will talk people through how to carry out CPR and use the defib
    • Compliance with NIAS’s ‘Advice and Best Practice Guidance for the use of Automated External Defibrillators (AED’ if purchasing an AED for their organisation or community).

    Congenital Heart Disease

    Congenital heart disease is a heart condition or defect that develops in the womb before a baby is born. Over 200 babies are born annually in Northern Ireland with congenital heart disease, approximately 50 of whom will have heart surgery in the first year of their lives. In addition to raising awareness of this issue and funding the Baby Heart Research that looked at which environmental factors increase the risk of a baby being born with CHD, NICHS also campaigns for services to give the baby the best chance in early life including children’s heart surgery.

    • Following a review of services in Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland it was decided that an all-island children's heart surgery network would be developed, with most surgery being carried out in Dublin. This was to ensure the best service possible in a sustainable manner.
    • NICHS supported this development and will continue to keep a close eye on this service to ensure our children are receiving excellent care, services and improved outcomes and families are supported during this difficult time in their lives.

    Familial Hypercholesterolemia (inherited high cholesterol gene)

    Around one in 500 people has FH, an inherited condition that increases cholesterol levels from birth. Most people are unaware that they have it, but if left untreated around half of men affected will develop heart disease by age 50 and approximately 30% of women by age 60.

    • The success of Northern Ireland Chest Heart and Stroke’s campaign to establish a screening service for Familial Hypercholesterolemia (FH) means that hundreds of lives will be changed and many lives saved across Northern Ireland.
    • The project is run by the Public Health Agency and has been developed and funded in partnership with Northern Ireland Chest Heart & Stroke and the Health and Social Care Board.
    • NICHS continues to take an interest in this new service, supporting its development and roll out across NI
    • Currently in NI there are 40,955 people living with COPD (2% of the population) (2)
    • 122,178 people living in NI are living with asthma (7% of the population) (2)
    • In 2017, diseases of the respiratory system accounted for 13% of all deaths (2,145)– note this figure excludes lung cancer and asthma
    • COPD accounts for 47% of all respiratory deaths

    Asthma

    NICHS are working with a range of clinicians to organise and develop a programme of asthma education initially with healthcare professionals and primarily aimed at improving care for children. We are also seeking to do more promotional work in schools.

    Generally asthma care has not improved as much as hoped in recent years. NICHS believe that by replicating some of the developments in countries such as Finland there is an opportunity to significantly improve the situation for asthma sufferers in Northern Ireland

    COPD

    NICHS’s Breathing Better Support Network is a collaborative service provided by NICHS, Health and Social Care Trusts (HSCTs) and local leisure facilities. It incorporates NICHS’s Respiratory Family Support, ‘Taking Control’ Self-Management Programme and Respiratory Support Group, with HSCTs’ pulmonary rehabilitation programmes and maintenance exercise classes offered by leisure centres, which are part funded by PHA.

    In addition to providing care and support services, NICHS runs various education campaigns and health promotion services to increase awareness, prevention and early detection.

    COPD is largely a preventable condition, and its risks can be reduced by avoiding smoking, the most common cause for COPD.

    NICHS campaigns for

    • increased awareness and referrals and access to our Breathing Better Services with a large focus on self-management of the condition to improve quality of life and enhanced independence
    • early detection and prevention by calling on further reduction in smoking rates and in particular to close the inequality in smoking with 30% smoking in less affluent areas compared to 18% for the general population

    Smoking

    Smoking is the single greatest cause of preventable illness and premature death in Northern Ireland, killing around 2,300 people each year. NICHS believes it is imperative, therefore, that government takes all reasonable measures possible which it believes may reduce the prevalence of smoking.

    • Our successful campaign was for the legislation to ban smoking in cars carrying children, however, we still await the introduction of the regulations required to bring this ban into force.

    E – Cigarettes

    We recognise that some smokers may choose to use e–cigarettes to help them cut down and/or quit and we recognise they are safer than using normal cigarettes. We don’t know, however, about their long–term effects. We recommend that you use the currently approved smoking cessation programmes, products and medicines. We currently do not support a ban on the use of e–cigarettes in buildings and places where a ban on smoking is in operation.

    • NICHS supports a ban on the sale of e–cigarettes to under 18 year olds and in NI legislation has been passed to that effect but unfortunately the regulations have not yet been introduced to give effect to the legislation.

    Tobacco Retailers Act (Northern Ireland) 2014

    We supported this Act which creates a register of all tobacco retailers and introduces new sanctions for those found guilty of selling to children. We worked closely with the Assembly in support of amendments to strengthen the Act. The Act includes changes such as making “proxy buying” (buying cigarettes on behalf of a person under 18 years old) an offence.

    • We strongly support the ‘escalator’ by which tobacco tax and increased every year ahead of inflation. There is strong evidence that this is the most effective method of encouraging people to give up smoking.
    • We believe that smokers should be offered a comprehensive range of services to help them quit.
    • We believe illegal cigarettes are undermining efforts both to persuade people to quit and the efforts to prevent people taking up smoking in the first place. We urge government and HMRC to increase the resources devoted to combating this issue.
    • Around 2,800 people are admitted to hospital each year due to stroke, and it causes around 800 deaths annually.
    • There are roughly 38,000 stroke survivors living in our communities.
    • Approximately two thirds of those who survive stroke are left with a life changing disability

    Stroke Manifesto

    We launched our new Stroke Manifesto 'Stroke Reform in Northern Irteland: Time for Action' In September 2021 as a call on the Department of Health and the Northern Ireland Executive to act on stroke reform in NI to improve stroke prevention, treatment and care for stroke survivors and their families.

    In 2017, we led stroke pre-consultation meetings and workshops with stroke survivors to inform and influence the process of reforming stroke care in Northern Ireland. The formal ‘Reshaping Stroke Care’ consultation on these changes took place two years later in 2019. Progress on these reforms was already slow and political instability and the COVID-19 crisis have sadly further delayed changes.

    Northern Ireland urgently needs not just to press on with the Stroke Review but with the development of a wider Stroke Strategy that addresses prevention, acute care, rehabilitation and support in the community, and our Manifesto outlines ten objectives to achieve improvements across these areas.

    Download a copy of our Stroke Manifesto.

    We launched our new stroke manifesto document with a ‘hybrid’ online and in-person event taking place at the Long Gallery at Stormont. The event was attended by political figures and leading health officials. The event was addressed by leading stroke consultants from Great Britain and the Republic of Ireland as well as the Chief Medical Officer, Prof Sir Michael McBride.



    Atrial Fibrillation (AF)

    • Atrial Fibrillation (AF) is a type of irregular heartbeat which can increase risk of stroke by up to five times.
    • There are over 40,000 people on the AF Register in Northern Ireland
    • Approximately 10,000 people may also currently be living with undiagnosed AF, who are at a much higher risk of stroke.

    In 2019/20 an inquiry was conducted into AF detection and management in Northern Ireland. This was led by Dr Niamh Kennedy from Ulster University. The study, commissioned by NICHS, engaged with clinicians at every level across Northern Ireland.

    The Inquiry brought forward nine recommendations to be implemented by the Department of Health and other key stakeholders to improve diagnosis, treatment and prevention of Atrial Fibrillation in Northern Ireland.

    1. Develop an AF strategy for Northern Ireland.
    2. Aim to identify 85% of people with AF by March 2023 and 90% by 2025.
    3. Create a clear clinical pathway for AF.
    4. Invest in technologies in clinical practice to detect AF and monitor treatment.
    5. Increase AF detection rates by targeted case finding based on AF risk factors.
    6. Address the echocardiograms (ECG) waiting list issue including tackling any workforce issues.
    7. Provide information and education to people living with AF.
    8. Prioritise improving adherence to treatment for existing AF patients to prevent future strokes.
    9. Commission the Public Health Agency to identify the most effective methods to raise public awareness of AF.

    Download a copy of our AF Inquiry.

  • NICHS does believe that prevention is better than cure and that we have to work across government departments and with other partner to achieve health and well-being and reduce inequalities for the people of NI. Our specific goal is to help prevent avoidable chest, heart and stroke conditions.

    We also believe that more investment and priority should be directed to promoting healthy lifestyles for our young people, our next generation (Link to Keeping People Healthy and HP Programmes).

    Obesity and Physical Activity

    Roughly a quarter of adults (27%) were obese with a further two-fifths (37%) classed as overweight. It is clear that there is an obesity problem and that as people age this is likely to turn into a ‘time-bomb’ by imposing more and more demands on the health and social care system.

    We believe a concerted suite of measures is necessary to combat obesity. NICHS prioritises measures which can be introduced at a regional and local level while supporting a range of measures that need to be brought forward at and UK or even EU level.

    This requires action on food and physical activity.

    • NICHS supports action across these areas for example we believe primary schools should provide two hours a week of quality PE to every pupil.

    Alcohol

    NICHS fully support the efforts of the government as they seek to combat the impact of alcohol consumption in the general population and we look forward to the implementation of such strategy in Northern Ireland. We fully support any developments that can help people make better decisions about drinking

    • We support the introduction of Minimum Unit Pricing. We believe this would help combat the issue of the very small number of drinkers who drink extreme amounts of very cheap alcohol.
  • Northern Ireland Chest Heart and Stroke is a member of the Association of Medical Research Charities (AMRC). All AMRC members support the AMRC position statement on the use of animals in research. NICHS does not typically fund animal research. Please visit the AMRC website for the full statement.

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