Implementation of action 52 is well under way in the health system.
All regions have undertaken initiatives to inform and educate the public about the national health strategy and health service reform programme. A variety of mechanisms are used including websites, information sessions and booklets, newspaper features, radio slots and education units.
Guidelines on a health service approach to community participation were produced in 2002 by the health boards executive in association with my Department. Two boards have established regional advisory panels/co-ordinating commit-tees for older consumers and their carers. A further two boards have a consumer panel on services for older consumers.
The expert group on mental health policy, established in August 2003 to prepare a new national policy framework for the mental health services, has received 140 submissions from interested organisations, individuals and the general public. Further consultation with various stakeholders including users of mental health services is planned. Regional advisory panels/co-ordinating committees in regard to services for people with a mental illness have not been established as yet, although three boards have indicated that other initiatives are under way to consult users of mental health services.
Six boards have established consumer panels dealing with issues such as service delivery; service development; environmental factors; appointment times; complaints; local service developments; and development of multidisciplinary primary care services.
The national consultative forum is convened on an annual basis to monitor the implementation of the national health strategy. The forum is broadly based and includes patient and client groups, service providers, senior management in the health system, the voluntary sector, organisations with an interest in the health system and relevant Government departments.
In May 2003, my Department and the Combat Poverty Agency jointly launched the agency's building healthy communities programme, which has a special focus on community development approaches to reducing health inequalities.
The primary care strategy, Primary Care — A New Direction, contains a commitment to the strengthening of community participation in primary care by encouraging and facilitating the involvement of local community and voluntary groups in the planning and delivery of primary care services. In the first instance, this is being given effect in the development of the initial group of ten primary care teams around the country. The health boards, which have the lead role in the process, have been exploring different mechanisms to engage with communities and users of primary care services in the areas involved. The national primary care steering group, through its sub-group on community involvement and health, is also considering how, at both a strategic and an operational level, community involvement in the planning and delivery of primary care services can be given practical effect. These mechanisms for community participation will be further advanced in the restructured health system.