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Opening of the Health Impact Assessment Symposium

Hon Annette King:

Opening of the Health Impact Assessment Symposium

Health Minister Annette King today thanked Massey University's Centre for Public Health Research and the Public Health Advisory Committee for inviting her to open this significant symposium.

Thank you to Massey University's Centre for Public Health Research and to the Public Health Advisory Committee for inviting me to open this significant symposium today.

And thank you to Professor Neil Pearce for his introduction. It is a real pleasure to be part of an event that has attracted so many distinguished speakers, both from overseas and within New Zealand.

Before I talk about this event more specifically, I am tempted to wonder whether any consideration has been given to doing a 'health impact assessment' on the symposium itself. Joking aside, I would suggest that any such assessment was likely to be very favourable indeed. It is my hope that both this symposium and the publication I am launching today will lead to the development of far more robust health policies in the future, and better health outcomes as a result.

On behalf of Massey University and the Public Health Advisory Committee, I would like to officially welcome you all to this symposium, with its focus on how health impact assessment can be applied to policies across government sectors.

It is a special privilege to welcome the two overseas speakers, Associate Professor Nancy Krieger from the Harvard School of Public Health, and Dr Alex Scott-Samuel from Liverpool University.

I am sure your opening presentations will provide a provocative start to a day that also involves a range of presentations on New Zealand's experience of impact assessment, including health impact assessment at the project level.

Health impact assessment, or HIA, is a process that helps policy-makers across a range of sectors take into account how a particular policy might affect people's health and well-being. In light of the HIA, draft policies can be changed to optimise health benefits and minimise any adverse health effects.

I do not think it can be put better than Kevin Hague does it in the foreword to the publication I am launching a little later this morning.

To quote Kevin: "It is now widely accepted that the factors that have the greatest effect on people's health lie outside and beyond the control of the health sector. Income, housing, education and employment are factors that play a major part in the ill-health people experience during their lifetime. "It is, therefore, in the interests of policy-makers to think seriously about the impacts --- both positive and negative --- that policies in these areas will have on people's health. By doing so, governments can direct their investment to policies that indicate likely beneficial effects and away from policies that indicate likely adverse effects."

This symposium is clearly focused on HIA in policy areas outside of health, such as transport, housing, environment and social development, and it is really positive to see policymakers from a wide range of sectors taking part.

In New Zealand we already routinely assess policies for their economic implications. I believe that consideration of a policy's potential effects on health should also be part of policy development.

To give you an example --- if the health impacts of the introduction of market rates to state housing rentals had been assessed when the policy was being developed, it may have highlighted implications for health and prompted a reconsideration of the policy.

Health problems can result from overcrowding, which is strongly linked with infectious diseases such as meningococcal disease. If housing costs take a disproportionate amount of people's income, there can also be adverse health effects from an inadequate diet, for instance.

Health impact assessment uses a broad definition of health and wellbeing, which helps to highlight the impacts of policies on people, including social, cultural and health dimensions. The broad definition is useful for 'triple bottom line' reporting, and can assist other sectors to address their objectives relating to health.

For example, the transport sector is now required to promote and protect public health as one of their overriding objectives.

I have referred a couple of times to the publication I am launching today. It has been produced by one of the two partners in today's symposium, the Public Health Advisory Committee, a sub-committee of the National Health Committee or NHC. The NHC is an independent group advising me on health and disability issues.

I know the PHAC has had a strong interest in health impact assessment for quite some time, and there can be no more appropriate forum at which to launch the publication, Guide to Health Impact Assessment; a Policy Tool for New Zealand.

The Committee has produced the guide to help policy-makers across sectors to consider potential health impacts as they develop policy.

This is the first time that health impact assessment has been tried out at the policy level in New Zealand. The Public Health Advisory Committee is to be congratulated for its pioneering work in an area that has not yet been tackled by anyone else in New Zealand.

This launch is timely given the Government's focus on working across sectors, and encouraging a 'whole of government' model, and given also that assessing policies for their impact on health is one of the objectives of the New Zealand Health Strategy.

HIA is consistent with a sustainable development approach to policy-making, which involves considering a wide range of social, cultural, environmental and economic implications, and allows the broad impacts of a policy proposal on people to be identified and assessed.

The Guide outlines a step-by-step process, developed from overseas models, for assessing the potential health impacts of policies.

I am pleased that an expert group made a significant contribution to adapting the process for New Zealand and provided advice to PHAC on the guide. While we can learn from experiences overseas, it is important to develop ways of considering health impacts that are appropriate in the New Zealand policy context.

I encourage policymakers in all sectors to use the Guide whenever they are considering significant policies, and to draw on the advice and support of public health practitioners where appropriate.

It is also important today to acknowledge that the introduction of health impact assessment has implications for the workforce - both in terms of training and supporting policymakers to use it, and in building the capacity of the public health workforce.

PHAC has made several recommendations for implementing health impact assessment, including one that implementation should begin with transport, housing and environment policy agencies.

I have sought separate and more detailed advice from the Ministry of Health on PHAC's recommendations, but as a first practical step I have asked the Director-General of Health, Karen Poutasi, to approach her colleagues in housing, transport and environment about implementing HIA in their sectors.

On behalf of the Public Health Advisory Committee it is with great pleasure that I release the Guide to Health Impact Assessment, and open today's symposium.

This Government is committed to improving the overall health of the population, as well as reducing inequalities in health. Health impact assessment can contribute to improving the overall health of the population by ensuring that policies, at the very least, do not produce serious adverse effects on health, and can also ensure that policies do not exacerbate or continue existing health inequalities.

I wish you well for the rest of your day and it goes without saying that I look forward to a continuing dialogue with you as we work together to encourage health impact assessment across all government sectors.

It is with great pleasure that I open the symposium and declare the Guide well and truly ready to be used. Thank you again for inviting me to join you on such a special occasion.


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