Maeve Murray

Insight Health: Building data for a healthy Ireland with Sláintecare

Submitted on Tuesday, 28/05/2024

Maeve Murray, Insight SFI Research Centre for Data Analytics, DCU

Health policymakers the world over recognise that health literacy in the general population is one of the best ways to reduce pressure on our health services. There is general agreement that ‘poor health literacy’ leads to poor health outcomes.

However, there is no one definition of health literacy as it varies from place to place, from person to person. – no single approach will improve the national health profile. That is why the HSE, in partnership with Sláintecare Healthy Communities, tasked researchers from the Insight SFI Research Centre for Data Analytics to go into communities and listen.

 The researchers – Stephen Behan, Hannah Goss and I – have spent the last several months listening to people across Ireland to build a picture of what health literacy means to them; what they know, what they need to know.

Why use data researchers? This research team has been working at the interface of data and public health for years. The Insight SFI Research Centre at DCU spent many of the last few years gathering data in primary schools, in partnership with the GAA, to discover the challenges that schools face in developing children’s physical literacy. The result of that work is a nationwide programme of physical literacy training for teachers, Moving Well Being Well, that is now being implemented in schools.

Using this blend of on-the-ground inquiry and the collection of large, tailored datasets, we have set about the business of understanding Ireland’s health literacy.

Through focus group interviews and workshops we have gleaned great insights into the unique needs of various groups whether they are youth groups, suicide prevention groups, Traveller support groups, Men’s  and Women’s Sheds, addiction support groups – we cast a wide net.

We found out what people understand, or don’t, about their own health. What do they know about nutrition, sleep, and mental health support services? Where are the gaps? What is preventing some groups from being active, trusting health information, or accessing a GP?

There were many similarities between rural and urban, young and old. Equally, there are unique challenges that require local solutions.

Everywhere we went, word of mouth was the key vector for health literacy. Grandparents were learning from their grandchildren, and vice versa, community champions were praised, and the role of the ‘good neighbour’ was clear. High level public health campaigns can only reach so far.

Sláintecare has only been around since 2021 and this is one of the first major pieces of research commissioned. We will now take what we have learned, and co-develop a set of plans to help connect local health services with local groups in  ways that promote and develop health literacy.

Already we can say the following with confidence: creating opportunities for community voices to be heard is the first crucial step in any local health literacy effort.

Soon we will have a set of recommendations to deliver to Sláintecare. The goal for all of us is to support people’s health needs on the ground, to empower people to take control of their own health. It’s a crucial step to a high-functioning health service and a healthy Ireland.