Healthcare waiting lists will continue to ‘soar’ without chronic disease prevention policies, politicians told

Organisations call for the policies to be put in place at Oireachtas health committee meeting

Healthcare waiting lists will continue to “soar” unless chronic disease prevention policies are put in place, the Oireachtas health committee has heard.

The Health Promotion Alliance Ireland, an umbrella group for 25 organisations, said there was a need to switch the focus from individual changes such as healthy eating and increased exercise to tackle chronic illness, and move to structural changes such as pricing and distribution.

Committee members heard the health service is “increasingly challenged by the burden of chronic diseases, such as cancer, cardiovascular disease, dementia and respiratory conditions”.

“These conditions place a significant strain on the healthcare system and on the economy,” said Janis Morrissey, director of health promotion at the Irish Heart Foundation. “Chronic diseases account for 76 per cent of all deaths annually, 40 per cent of admissions and 75 per cent of bed days.”


In her opening statement, Ms Morrissey said these chronic diseases are “largely preventable” and caused by “five common risk factors: poor diet, alcohol consumption, physical inactivity, smoking and obesity”.

However, she said there is a tendency to blame individuals when really the focus should be on changing the environment that allows these situations to arise.

“While individuals may have a level of responsibility for their health, the language of lifestyle perpetuates a disproportionate focus on the need for individuals to change their ‘unhealthy lifestyle’ as opposed to system-level change to support healthier choices,” she said.

“How can you expect someone to eat a healthy diet just because they occasionally hear a radio ad when they are constantly subjected to a well-resourced onslaught of targeted marketing of readily available, cheap ultra-processed food? How can people have a choice when the odds are stacked against them?”

Sheila Gilheany of Alcohol Action Ireland called for the establishment of an office for alcohol harm reduction that could provide advice and policy suggestions across Government.

She said the Public Health (alcohol) Act 2018 was welcome, but it is “still not fully implemented in relation to resitrctions on advertisements”.

Norah Campbell, associate professor of critical marketing in Trinity College Dublin, suggested setting up “green zones” within set distances of schools where the sale of certain products would not be permitted. She also said subsidies should be put in place for fruits and vegetables.

With regard to smoking, Ms Campbell said there is a “lost generation” with regard to reducing smoking levels, but she said there is a need to “stop the uptake of smoking”. She suggested copying the New Zealand model, which will make it illegal for those born after a certain year to buy cigarettes.

“Overtime, illegality of cigarettes grows. It’s the only kind of effective thing. Sunset clause on tobacco is really the most efficacious thing,” she said.

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Shauna Bowers

Shauna Bowers

Shauna Bowers is a reporter for The Irish Times