Concern Over Traveller Healthcare

An influential committee of parliamentarians has said the standard of healthcare for Travellers is unacceptable and called on local authorities in Britain and Ireland to co-ordinate provision of sites.

It found that GPs had closed their books to the marginalised group in Scotland and Ireland and expectant mothers had been unable to access maternity services in emergencies.

The British/Irish Parliamentary Assembly (BIPA) recommended agreement across jurisdictions to establish dedicated centres, helping address fears that areas which acted first could be overwhelmed.

The report said: "This inequality of access and outcomes and patchy provision is unacceptable and must be addressed.''

The BIPA represents parliamentarians from Scotland, England, Wales, Northern Ireland, the Republic of Ireland, the Isle of Man, Jersey and Guernsey.

Following an inquiry by a committee of senior members of the body it discovered poor health and employment prospects.

Their report said suicide rates among Traveller men of up to seven times higher than average were unacceptable and needed to be tackled.

The document said: "The committee was shocked to hear repeated stories, across the jurisdictions, of expectant mothers being unable to access maternity services in emergencies, or ambulance services refusing to come onto a site the committee visited.

"GPs in Scotland and Ireland have still been known to close their books to Travellers and Gypsies and the health authorities have been compelled to step in in many cases.''

Lord Dubs, a former Northern Ireland Office (NIO) minister, said it was shocking how tired and damaging stereotypes against Travellers persisted.

He added: "It astounds us that in the 21st century people who are actively seeking employment can still encounter prejudice and barriers because of their accent, address and name.''

The committee recommended greater sharing of best practice on meeting the needs of Travellers, Gypsies and Roma across the UK and Ireland.

Evidence to the inquiry exposed so many problems and differences of approach that all the governments and administrations should hold a joint conference to explore these issues, the group of parliamentarians said.

The Scottish Government has committed to greater transparency when assessing need, with clear consultation, and the BIPA said other governments should follow this lead.

The committee also recommended that:

:: The Irish Government take urgent steps to recognise the Traveller ethnicity to ensure they and their culture is protected, as previously recommended by TDs.

:: Administrations must discuss how to improve understanding and awareness of the needs of Travellers and gypsies amongst the authorities responsible for medical, dental and social care and nursing training.

:: Governments make funding available to adequately support children and also fund research and development of support for teachers.

The report said adequate language help in schools was vital if Roma children were to access education in the UK and Ireland and called for a fresh assessment of current arrangements.

Traveller life expectancy is shorter by about 15 years for men and 12 for women. Infant mortality is estimated to be three to six times higher among Traveller and Gypsy children, the report said.

Lord Dubs said: "The stark differences in health and education provision and outcomes are very worrying and we view this partly as a result of a lack of overall co-ordination and central ownership of these issues.

"It is clear that multi-agency city-wide efforts, such as those we saw in Edinburgh, are powerful vehicles for change.

"This approach should be replicated across the jurisdictions. National political leadership in these areas is essential.''

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