Northern Ireland’s Agriculture and Rural Development Minister, Michelle O’Neill, has welcomed the 4,000th person through the doors of the Farm Families Health Checks Programme mobile service.

The programme involves a mobile van visiting farmer’s marts and rural community centres all across the north with trained nurses providing health checks to those attending. Since it launched in July 2012, the service has attended various marts and community centres on 179 occasions.

During a visit to Dungannon Mart the minister said the fact that 4,000 farmers and family members have availed of the programme since its launch demonstrates the need for such a service.

Minister O’Neill said: “I can understand why it may be said that farmers are ‘guilty’ of focusing on their business and livestock without giving due consideration to their own wellbeing given the long unsociable hours they work.

“It is therefore very encouraging to note that today I have met the 4,000th person to avail of the services of the Families Health Checks Programme, and with 51 per cent being referred to their GP as a result of a check it is a clear sign that such services are very much welcome in rural areas.”

Highlighting the importance of rural communities having access to health services, the minister added: “It is vitally important that we continue to support those in rural communities and the Health Checks Programme delivered at marts and rural community centres provide farmers and rural dwellers with the opportunity to improve their health and social well-being.

“The programme increases local access to health screening services, provides health related advice and information and also signposts to existing services for further advice and support thereby enhancing equality of opportunity.”

Dr Eddie Rooney, Chief Executive of the Public Health Agency (PHA), said: “The PHA has responsibility for improving people’s health and wellbeing and reducing health inequalities, so the Farm Families Health Checks Programme plays an important role in helping us to do this in rural areas. It is making a real difference to the health and wellbeing of farming communities by empowering people living in rural areas to take care of themselves.”

Pictured: Doreen Bolton nursing co-ordinator, DARD Minister Michelle O’Neill MLA and Cookstown Farmer Dawson McAlister