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Donegal Travellers’ Project has long been involved in local and national efforts to improve access to health services and support so that the Traveller community have improved health outcomes.

Most recently, the DTP Primary Health Care team worked closely with the Health Service Executive in preparing the CHO 1 Traveller Health Strategic Plan, 2018-2022. Earlier, they were instrumental in compiling data for the All-Ireland Traveller Health Study – Our Geels, which was published in 2010. The study, the first of Traveller health status and health needs involving all Travellers living on the island of Ireland, provided a crucial benchmark for the provision of health services to the Traveller community.

In June of 2017, the National Traveller and Roma Inclusion Strategy was published, listing health as one of ten strategic themes, and the Traveller Health Strategic Plan used this action framework in structuring local actions to improve Traveller health in the HSE’s CHO 1 region.

Health issues have been a priority for Donegal Travellers’ Project since its early days. The DTP Primary Health Care team has been central to this work, with team members – themselves members of the Traveller community – on the ground and in the community every day.

Working from a community development approach to empower members of the community, and funded through the HSE, the DTP Primary Health Care Project is based in DTP offices in Letterkenny and Ballyshannon and serves the whole county.

DTP community health workers regularly conduct family visits. Their work on the ground ensures they keep aware of the emergency of particular illnesses, and can build knowledge as a team to support members of the community to access health services.

The project also offers education on healthy lifestyles and diets through health and wellbeing groups, as well as its one-on-one work with members of the Traveller community.

The primary health care team address the range of health issues – women’s health, men’s health, children and family health, health needs of older people, and mental health for all. The team have been accountable for delivering on the three key performance indicators for the health of the community: cardiovascular health, diabetes and mental health. To address these issues, DTP:

  • Provides training, information and testing on Type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular health.
  • Offers positive mental health initiatives for Travellers of all ages.
  • That said, it is important to acknowledge that work in relation to these three key indicators does not reflect the broad reach of work and support that the DTP primary health care team provides.

    The research into Traveller health has brought forward stark truths: On average, Traveller men die 15 years younger than settled men and Traveller women die 11 years younger than settled women. Travellers are also twice as likely as the general population to have diabetes and related conditions. And infant mortality is 14.1 per cent in the Traveller population and 3.9 per cent in the general population.

    On a wider scale, DTP and the CHO1 Traveller Health Strategic Plan also acknowledge the principles of the World Health Organisation in relation to the highest attainable standard of health as a fundamental right of every human being. The strategic plan for health identifies achieving the right to health as closely related to other human rights, including the right to food, housing, work, education, non-discrimination, access to information, and participation.

    To address the broad scope of health, and its impact on so many other aspects of people’s lives, the work of the primary health care team includes, but is not limited to, family visits; health promotion; employment supports; Small Changes, Big Difference and other mental health initiatives; accommodation work; horse projects; access services; summer programmes; personal development; advocacy work; and LBGTQI support.

    Men’s Health

    “There’s always a helping hand,” Hugh Friel, men’s development worker at DTP, said. “If a man needs support or help, we’re there.”

    Donegal Travellers’ Project run a broad range of programmes for Traveller men, among them food and nutrition courses, literacy courses and driving theory courses. A popular year-round weekly men’s pick-up football game promotes healthy activity and socialization.

    Many of the DTP programmes are tailored to address the three key performance indicators, diabetes, cardiovascular health, and mental health.

    DTP runs blood-pressure and diabetes clinics for Traveller men, in conjunction with the public health nurse, and engages regularly in outreach to raise awareness of the importance of positive mental health and heart health. DTP also works with the HSE’s diabetes education and self-management programme, or Desmond (Diabetes Education and Self-Management for Ongoing and Newly Diagnosed Diabetes), for people who have diabetes.

    The men’s development worker works with Traveller men on a one-on-one basis, and also works with local GPs, addiction services and mental health services. DTP provides all service on a confidential basis.

    There are day trips for men – DTP has led climbs of Croagh Patrick and visits to substance abuse services in Dublin to raise awareness among Traveller men of the effects of drugs and alcohol.

    The programmes DTP offers promote a healthy lifestyle and diet, responding to the All-Ireland Traveller Health Study, which found that cardiovascular disease and high blood pressure are very high within the Traveller community.

    DTP offer a drop-in service at their Letterkenny offices, where men are welcome at any time to call in and discuss any issues or concerns they have. Part of the work of the men’s development worker is to put Traveller men in contact with any services they require, from securing medical cards to particular health care services.

    Groups starting up again in September will include a men’s literacy group, and the Small Change, Big Difference groups, which address smoking cessation, healthy eating, and other issues.

    For more information, contact Donegal Travellers’ Project on 074 912 9281 or call by the offices at 73 Port Road, Gortlee, Letterkenny.

    Women’s health

    “We’re out working in the community at grassroots level, working with the Traveller community on the ground and working to ensure Travellers are engaging with services,” Ann Friel, team leader for the primary health care team at Donegal Travellers’ Project, said. “We empower women to become decision-makers.”

    Donegal Travellers’ Project works with the Donegal Women’s Centre to provide cervical smear clinics and with national screening services to provide breast check clinics for Traveller women.

    As with men’s health programmes, women’s health services at DTP have also prioritized the key performance indicators of diabetes, cardiovascular health and mental health.

    This year DTP also introduced a four-week taster programme for women who had never before been in a gym setting. Introducing participants to circuit training, aerobics, cycling, pilates, and other gym activities, the programme was designed to build knowledge and understanding of cardiovascular health, as well as to make the women involved feel more comfortable going into a gym and making use of those services themselves.

    Through Ann’s work with hospital services, it was discovered that there were not a lot of Traveller women accessing antenatal services, so DTP initiated a programme to encourage more women to engage with those services. In the same way, DTP works with the HSE’s diabetes education and self-management programme, or Desmond, for people who have diabetes.

    A successful women’s gender equality group run for the first time this past year will also resume again in September, as will the Small Change, Big Difference groups, which address smoking cessation, healthy eating, and other issues.

    For more information, contact Donegal Travellers’ Project on 074 912 9281 or call by the offices at 73 Port Road, Gortlee, Letterkenny.

    Children and family health

    Donegal Travellers’ Project primary health care team does a great deal of outreach through home visits throughout the county, as well as working with people who visit DTP offices in Letterkenny and Ballyshannon.

    Underpinning the work of the primary health care team is the community development ethos, which underscores the work of the Donegal Travellers’ Project. As well as connecting Traveller families with the services they need, DTP also works to empower Traveller men, women, and children to advocate for themselves with services, State agencies, and other offices.

    “It’s about building their capacity around different things, to help them to represent themselves with different agencies,” Ann Friel, team leader of the primary health care team, said. “It’s about setting the foundation for them to engage with different services.”

    The popular youth summer camps Donegal Travellers’ Project runs also offer Traveller children an opportunity to explore different sports and different activities, building an interest and confidence the young people can carry with them into school sports and activities.

    Children’s health initiatives at Donegal Traveller’s Project include promotion of immunization uptake and antenatal advocacy, as well as promoting activity and healthy diet, health education, and confidence-building.

    Donegal Travellers’ Project also works with and advocates for families seeking to access medical cards or improved living conditions, as part of their primary health care work.

    For more information, contact Donegal Travellers’ Project on 074 912 9281 or call by the offices at 73 Port Road, Gortlee, Letterkenny.

    Older people’s health

    Donegal Travellers’ Project works to ensure that the health and wellbeing needs of Travellers age 60 and older across Donegal are met, using a comprehensive and safe approach.

    Among the initiatives for older people that DTP provides are an intensive home visiting programme delivered across the country, which includes home health screening for older Travellers with the public health nurse; and a weekly phone service, Weekly Whid, designed to engage directly with older people by telephone on a regular basis.

    For more information, contact Donegal Travellers’ Project on 074 912 9281 or call by the offices at 73 Port Road, Gortlee, Letterkenny.

    DTP Community Health Hub

    Donegal Travellers Project has opened a new Community Health Hub in Ballyshannon, offering programmes, supports, and services to Travellers in south Donegal, Donegal town, Killybegs, and north Leitrim.

    The hub is open on a drop-in basis from 10am to 4pm every Wednesday, at the DTP office on Main Street in Ballyshannon. On offer at the hub are health care information and screenings, fitness and wellbeing programmes, housing and accommodation support, assistance with CV and application forms, and much more.

    “DTP’s new Community Health Hub in Ballyshannon is designed to promote Traveller pride and culture in a number of different ways,” said DTP Manager Siobhán McLaughlin.

    The health hub team includes Siobhan; Hugh Friel, DTP Men’s Health Worker; Rose McDonagh, Anne McLean and Patrick McGinley, DTP Community Health Workers; Kate Hagan, DTP Community Development and Health Worker; and Maeve McIvor, Traveller Job Coach at Donegal Local Development Company.

    For more on the Community Health Hub, contact DTP offices in Ballyshannon on (071) 985 1936 or by sending an email to