Mr. Jim Walsh, Dept of Health told the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Issues Affecting Traveller that Traveller Primary Healthcare Projects are a good model and should become part of health service delivery. “A lot of credit goes to Traveller Health Workers”, he said and the Dept would be happy to support the National Traveller Health Action plan due to be published.

He added it was important to reverse any cuts in Traveller Health and said Health Minister Simon Harris, TD is committed to implementing a plan to address Traveller health inequalities.

However, Traveller Health has received no new development funding since 2008 and Missie Collins explained how difficult it is for Traveller Health Projects to do their work.

” It has to change for us. There is no use promising me we’re going to try . . . It has to happen for us. I am angry.

We are the ones on the ground saving lives. We are helping the state by doing this service but we don’t always feel valued or appreciated.

“We are the ones on the ground saving lives. We are helping the state by doing this service but we don’t always feel valued or appreciated. Most of Traveller Community Health Workers work 12 hours but in reality we’re on call 24 hours a day, as we live in the community.

“We see our people suffering and this constantly on our mind and impacts our own mental health. We are losing really good Traveller Community Health Workers because there has been a lack of investment in our future by the State. Traveller health has not received any new development monies since 2008.

It is like taking one step forward and three or four steps back. Therefore, we are always battling.

“Most of us are on the minimum wage despite years of service and there is little progression routes. When it comes the day that I retire, there is no retirement plan for me. We don’t get the same entitlements as other workers in the HSE. Do you think that’s right? That after years of service and hard work on behalf of the State to improve our community’s health we come out with nothing.

Breast cancer awareness month at Pavee Point. ©Photo by Derek Speirs

“It is like taking one step forward and three or four steps back. Therefore, we are always battling.

Medical Cards

Many of our workers are losing their medical cards and given the our health needs we can’t afford to not have a medical card. It is government policy that everybody will have access to GP care within 5 years. All we’re asking is that Travellers be prioritised given our health needs. We further recommend that with immediate effect all Travellers employed in Primary Health Care Projects, are helped to retain their medical card. Similar to those with disabilities. This is about 300 Traveller Health Workers.

“This would be a huge confidence measure for Traveller Community Health Workers around the country.

“I am hopeful, that we can work together to address the issues I have spoken about but we need leadership. I am tired of running after Ministers and trying to convince them that our health is at crisis point. We need all departments to help, as Travellers health is affecting by Travellers not getting jobs, not being supported in school and living in bad conditions, with no services.

 Traveller Struggle to Set Up Health Projects

“I am one of the first Traveller women who approached the health board with Pavee Point looking for Primary Health Care for Travellers, given that our health was so bad. They said it wouldn’t work- Travellers going out talking to other Travellers,” Missie Collins told a Joint Oireachtas Committee.

“I eventually wore them down and they said we would be funded for one year. We’re still here now and there have been many other Traveller Primary Health Care Projects set up around the country. We worked hard and it took us several long years to get the Traveller Health Strategy and one of its recommendations was Primary Health Care for Travellers Projects.

“It also recommended the setting up of the Traveller Health Advisory Committee which I was part of and it was really important because we worked with the Department of Health and the HSE.

“That has been gone since 2012 and we feel that we have been left behind. We did get a promise from the Minister that it would be reconvened but this has happened. We feel there is a block somewhere in the Department and that it isn’t the Minister.

Traveller Health Study

“We were also told we need the evidence that our health needs were bad and we lobbied the Department of Health for the All Ireland Traveller Health Study. We got over €1 million for the study and trained 400 Travellers from all across Ireland to go out and find out about our health needs. Again, they said it couldn’t be done but we went the length and breadth of Ireland and got the evidence. It was done by Travellers for Travellers.

We are losing really good Traveller Community Health Workers because there has been a lack of investment in our future by the State. Traveller health has not received any new development monies since 2008.

“We found that my people (Travellers) are dying younger and at a faster rate. To make this real for you, where I live there are 300 Traveller families. I can count only a fistful that are over 60 years age. My own husband died a young man in his early 50’s leaving a young family behind. So the Study found lots of the problems but also highlighted some positive things. It found almost all Traveller women were accessing maternity services for the first time and double the number of Traveller women were getting smear tests and breast checks than women in the general population.

Missy Collins presents the All Ireland Traveller Health Study 2010.

“This is because of the information the Traveller Community Health Workers in the Primary Health Care Projects are giving direct to Travellers in their own words and in a way that they understand why these health services are important.

Read our full submission on health to the Special Joint Oireachtas Committee on Issues Affecting Travellers.